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archaeologies of 
the middle east 

Archaeologies of the Middle East 


Series Editors: Lynn Meskell and Rosemary A. Joyce 

Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology is a series of contemporary texts, each care- 
fully designed to meet the needs of archaeology instructors and students seeking 
volumes that treat key regional and thematic areas of archaeological study. Each 
volume in the series, compiled by its own editor, includes 12-15 newly commis- 
sioned articles by top scholars within the volume's thematic, regional, or temporal 
area of focus. 

What sets the Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology apart from other available texts 
is that their approach is accessible, yet does not sacrifice theoretical sophistication. 
The series editors are committed to the idea that usable teaching texts need not 
lack ambition. To the contrary, the Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology aim to 
immerse readers in fundamental archaeological ideas and concepts, but also to 
illuminate more advanced concepts, thereby exposing readers to some of the most 
exciting contemporary developments in the field. Inasmuch, these volumes are 
designed not only as classic texts, but as guides to the vital and exciting nature of 
archaeology as a discipline. 

1 Mesoamerican Archaeology: Theory and Practice 

Edited by Julia A. Hendon and Rosemary A. Joyce 

2 Andean Archaeology 

Edited by Helaine Silverman 

3 African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction 

Edited by Ann Brower Stahl 

4 Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives 

Edited by Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck 

5 North American Archaeology 

Edited by Timothy R. Pauketat and Diana DiPaolo Loren 

6 The Archaeology of Mediterranean Prehistory 

Edited by Emma Blake and A. Bernard Knapp 


An Archaeology of Asia 
Edited by Miriam Stark 

Archaeology of Oceania: Australia and the Pacific Islands 
Edited by Ian Lilley 

Historical Archaeology 

Edited by Martin Hall and Stephen Silliman 

Classical Archaeology 

Edited by Susan E. Alcock and Robin G. Osborne 

Archaeologies of the 
Middle East 

Critical Perspectives 

Edited by 

Susan Pollock and 
Reinhard Bernbeck 

Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology 




© 2005 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd 

except for editorial material and organization © 2005 by Susan Pollock and 

Reinhard Bernbeck 


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The right of Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck to be identified as the 
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of the publisher. 

First published 2005 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Archaeologies of the Middle East : critical perspectives / edited by Susan 
Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck. 

p. cm. - (Blackwell studies in global archaeology) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-631-23000-9 (hardback : alk. paper) - ISBN 0-631-23001-7 
(pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Archaeology - Middle East - History. 2. Middle 
East - Antiquities. I. Pollock, Susan, 1955- II. Bernbeck, Reinhard, 
1958- III. Series. 

DS56.A735 2005 
939'.4'0072 - dc22 


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List of Figures 

List of Tables 

List of Contributors 

Series Editors' Preface 







1 Introduction 

Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck 

2 A Cultural-Historical Framework 

Reinhard Bernbeck and Susan Pollock 


Part I Producing and Disseminating Knowledge About the Ancient 

Near East 41 

3 Who Has Not Eaten Cherries with the Devil? Archaeology under 

Challenge 45 

Caroline Steele 

4 Archaeology and Nationalism in the Holy Land 66 
Adel H. Yahya 

5 Archaeology Goes to War at the Newsstand 78 
Susan Pollock 

6 The Past as Fact and Fiction: From Historical Novels to Novel Histories 97 

Reinhard Bernbeck 


Part II Reassessing Evolutionary "Firsts" 123 

7 Bleeding or Breeding: Neandertals vs. Early Modern Humans in the Middle 
Paleolithic Levant 129 
John Shea 

8 Lumps of Clay and Pieces of Stone: Ambiguity, Bodies, and Identity as 
Portrayed in Neolithic Figurines 152 

Ian Kuijt and Meredith S. Chesson 

9 The State: The Process of State Formation as Seen from Mesopotamia 184 

Jean-Daniel Forest 

10 Archaeology, Bible, and the History of the Levant in the Iron Age 207 

Israel Finkelstein 

I I Imperialism 223 

Mario Liverani 

Part III Constructing Arguments, Understanding Perceptions 245 

12 Ethnoarchaeology, Analogy, and Ancient Society 251 

Marc Verhoeven 

13 The Ancient Sumerians in the Tides of Time 271 
Petr Charvdt 

14 Reliquaries on the Landscape: Mounds as Matrices of Human Cognition 286 
Sharon R. Steadman 

15 Archaeology and Texts in the Ancient Near East 308 

Paul Zimansky 

1 6 Representations, Reality, and Ideology 327 
Jennifer C. Ross 

Index 351 


1 . 1 Map of the Middle East 4 

2.1 Map of Mesopotamia and Iran with archaeological sites marked 12 

2.2 Map of the Levant and southeastern Turkey with archaeological 

sites marked 13 

7.1 Map of the Levant showing the locations of principal Middle 
Paleolithic sites 130 

7.2 Changes in the chronology of Middle Paleolithic human fossil 

sites in the Levant 1982-2001 132 

7.3 Contrasting unidirectional-convergent and radial/centripetal 

core preparation strategies 139 

8.1 Map of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites of the Southern Levant 154 

8.2 Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period figurines 159 

8.3 Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period anthropomorphic busts 

and statues, and cache from ' Ain Ghazal, Jordan 1 64 

8.4 Middle and Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period anthropomorphic 
figurines and plastered skulls 165 

8.5 Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period zoomorphic figurines 

and facial representations 166 

8.6 Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B/Pre-Pottery Neolithic C 

zoomorphic and geometric figurines 167 

9.1 Plan of an Ubaid-period house from Tell el Oueili 189 

9.2 Plan of an Ubaid-period house from Kheit Qasim 191 

9.3 Plan of a notable's residence and small tripartite houses 

from Gawra XII 192 

9.4 Plan of Eanna area of Uruk at the end of the fourth millennium 

B.C.E. 194 

12.1 Plastered human skull from Jericho 261 

12.2 Decorated human skull from Papua New Guinea 262 


14.1 A Turkish village on the Anatolian Plateau 287 

14.2 £adir Hoyiik, the author's excavation site, central Turkey 288 

16.1 Victory Stele of Naram-Sin 340 

16.2 Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III 341 

16.3 Vulture Stele of Eannatum 342 

16.4 Late Uruk and Jemdet Nasr glyptic scenes 344 


7.1 Correlation of hominid fossils and core reduction strategies 138 

8.1 Summary of Pre-Pottery Neolithic settlement systems and figurines 158 

8.2 Sites with figurines from the southern Levantine Pre-Pottery 

Neolithic 160 

8.3 Summaries of figurine data by period 161 

8.4 PPN figurines with published contextual information 162 

List of Contributors 

Reinhard Bernbeck is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton Uni- 
versity. His specialty is the archaeology of the ancient Near East. He has directed 
and participated in field projects in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. He is interested 
in historiography and theories of praxis and also remains committed to a historical 
materialist view of the past. 

Petr Charvat is Director of Research at the Oriental Institute (Academy of 
Sciences of the Czech Republic) in Prague. He also holds part-time appointments 
at Charles University (Prague) and Western Bohemian University (Plzen) . He has 
done fieldwork in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Sri Lanka. His main research 
focus is the emergence of statehood and literacy from a general anthropological 
perspective and with respect to the cuneiform-using regions of ancient southwest- 
ern Asia. 

Meredith S. Chesson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of 
Notre Dame. Her specialty is the archaeology of the Middle East, particularly the 
southern Levant. She has done fieldwork in Jordan, Cyprus, Italy, Canada, and the 
United States. Her research focuses on the emergence of social differentiation in 
early complex societies, urbanism, and mortuary practices. 

Israel Finkelstein is Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and the co- 
director of the Megiddo Expedition. His field of research is the Levant in the Bronze 
and Iron Ages. 

Jean-Daniel Forest is Charge de Recherche at the Centre National de la 
Recherche Scientifique, Paris. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Iraq, 
spanning the earliest village communities to state and urban societies. His research 
focuses on social, political, and religious dimensions of early Mesopotamian state 
societies and their antecedents. 

Ian Kuijt is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, 
with a specialty in the archaeology of the Middle East and western North America. 


He has extensive fieldwork experience in Canada, the United States, Israel, Jordan, 
and parts of Europe. His research contributes to studies of the emergence of social 
inequality and food production, political economy, and identity within hunter- 
gatherer, foraging, and farming communities. 

Mario Liverani is Professor of History of the Ancient Near East at the University 
of Rome "La Sapienza." He is the author of many books and articles on economic, 
social, and political history and on ancient and modern historiography. He has 
conducted fieldwork in Syria, Turkey, and presently in the Libyan Sahara. 

Susan Pollock is Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University, with a spe- 
cialty in archaeology of the Middle East. She has conducted fieldwork in Iran, 
Turkey, and Iraq. Her research contributes to studies of political economy, ideol- 
ogy and representation, and archaeology in the media. 

Jennifer Ross is Assistant Professor of Art and Archaeology at Hood College in 
Frederick, Maryland. Her research focuses on the social construction and functions 
of technological and artistic production. She excavates in Turkey, most recently at 
Cadir Hoyiik. 

John Shea is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University. His 
areas of expertise include Paleolithic archaeology and paleoanthropology of the 
Middle East and Africa. He has directed fieldwork in Israel, Jordan, Tanzania, and 
Ethiopia. His research interests focus on lithic analysis and hominid/human 
adaptive radiations. 

Sharon Steadman is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and 
Sociology at the State University of New York at Cortland. Her research is centered 
on the study of architecture and the use of space. She is presently co-director of 
excavations at the site of Cadir Hoyiik in central Turkey. 

Caroline Steele is an independent scholar. She has worked on excavations in 
Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Her primary research interests lie in early urban societies 
of Mesopotamia and in the intersection of politics, human rights, and archaeology. 

Marc Verhoeven is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo. His 
specialty is the prehistory of the Near East. He has conducted fieldwork at Neolithic 
Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria. His main research interests are prehistoric symbolism, 
ritual, ideology, and the uses of ethnography for understanding the past. 

Adel Yahya is Director of the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange 
(PACE), an organization established in 1996 to protect Palestinian cultural 
heritage. In addition to his active involvement in educating and involving local 
people in archaeology, he has conducted research on the Iron Age in the Levant. 

Paul Zimansky is Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, specializing in 
the archaeology and history of the Bronze and Iron Age Near East. He has exca- 
vated in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and published extensively on the civilization 
of Urartu (Ararat) in eastern Anatolia. 

Series Editors' Preface 

This series was conceived as a collection of books designed to cover central areas 
of undergraduate archaeological teaching. Each volume in the series, edited by 
experts in the area, includes newly commissioned articles written by archaeologists 
actively engaged in research. By commissioning new articles, the series combines 
one of the best features for readers, the presentation of multiple approaches to 
archaeology, with the virtues of a text conceived from the beginning as intended 
for a specific audience. While the model reader for the series is conceived of as an 
upper-division undergraduate, the inclusion in the volumes of researchers actively 
engaged in work today will also make these volumes valuable for more advanced 
researchers who want a rapid introduction to contemporary issues in specific 
sub-fields of global archaeology. 

Each volume in the series will include an extensive introduction by the volume 
editor that will set the scene in terms of thematic or geographic focus. Individual 
volumes, and the series as a whole, exemplify a wide range of approaches in 
contemporary archaeology. The volumes uniformly engage with issues of contem- 
porary interest, interweaving social, political, and ethical themes. We contend that 
it is no longer tenable to teach the archaeology of vast swaths of the globe without 
acknowledging the political implications of working in foreign countries and the 
responsibilities archaeologists incur by writing and presenting other people's 
pasts. The volumes in this series will not sacrifice theoretical sophistication for 
accessibility. We are committed to the idea that usable teaching texts need not lack 

Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology aims to immerse readers in fundamental 
archaeological ideas and concepts, but also to illuminate more advanced concepts, 
exposing readers to some of the most exciting contemporary developments in the 

Lynn Meskell and Rosemary A. Joyce 


The editors would like to thank a number of individuals who contributed directly 
to this book. Norman Yoffee read and commented on the manuscript at short 
notice. Stanley Kauffman of Binghamton University's Educational Communica- 
tions Center produced the maps in chapters 1 and 2. Lynn Meskell and Rosemary 
Joyce invited us to contribute a book to their series and offered encouragement 
throughout the project. Jane Huber and her assistants at Blackwell were unwaver- 
ingly enthusiastic and supportive. We wish especially to thank all of the authors for 
their contributions, from which we have learned much, and for their patience 
throughout the process of producing this book. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the 
continuing intellectual inspiration of our colleagues, especially Charles Cobb, 
Carmen Ferradas, Randall McGuire, and Ann Stahl, and students in the Anthro- 
pology Department at Binghamton. We recognize our intellectual indebtedness to 
many more people, both professional colleagues and friends from all walks of life, 
without whose input, whether intended or not, this book could not have been con- 
ceived in the way it was. 



Susan Pollock 

and Reinhard Bernbeck 

It is ever more common these days for archaeologists to acknowledge that their pro- 
fession is a Western product that emerged, like so many other academic disciplines, 
in the context of the European Enlightenment. The fact that archaeology is now 
practiced throughout much of the world, not just by Westerners but by a growing 
cadre of indigenous professionals, is a result of colonialism and imperialism. 
Westerners made the study of the material remains of the past a tool in their own 
political ambitions and at the same time demonstrated its utility to their subjects 
in their own quests for independence and national identities (Trigger 1984; Kohl 
and Fawcett 1995). 

Although its object of study is the past and the lives of dead people, archaeol- 
ogy is a social practice that is thoroughly embedded in the contemporary world. 
Archaeologists invariably work among and often directly with people who reside in 
the areas where their fieldwork is conducted. The structure of the discipline and of 
academia in general gives some people the rights to excavate, curate, and study 
archaeological remains, while others are consigned to roles as consumers of the 
interpretations thereby produced. The ways in which archaeologists interpret their 
findings owe much to current ideas about knowledge production within the pro- 
fession, and these tend to privilege certain topics and approaches over others. 

The theme of archaeology's embeddedness in the contemporary world runs 
throughout the contributions to this book. A number of authors treat directly the 
connections between modern-day politics and the social context of archaeological 
practice. The choice of topics to include was itself very much a product of the 
current issues of concern in archaeology of the Middle East and the editors' and 
authors' readings and evaluations of them. In this way, like all books, the contents 
of this one are highly selective. 

It perhaps needs little mention that any book on the archaeology of the Middle 
East, especially a single-volume work, cannot possibly pretend to be comprehen- 
sive. Our aims as editors have been threefold: to foreground the sociopolitical con- 


texts and ideological implications of archaeological work, to explore various themes 
and approaches to archaeological interpretation that have not received much atten- 
tion in the archaeology of the region, and to address controversial issues as well as 
conventional ones in novel ways. We have not sought to produce an absolute coher- 
ence in presentation or viewpoints; any such harmony would be an artificial paper- 
ing over of real differences in the field. We as editors do not agree with all of the 
authors' arguments, and some authors disagree with the interpretations of others 
in the book. This is, we believe, a positive state of affairs in an intellectually vibrant 

What we have not attempted to do in this book is to strive for coverage of all 
periods nor of all parts of the Middle East, nor have we selected a specific range of 
periods or single region for in-depth treatment. Rather, we have emphasized over- 
arching themes that are also of broad relevance to archaeology as a whole and, in 
doing so, endeavored to touch on a diversity of times and places in the Middle East. 
Nonetheless, this book, like so many others, tends to privilege those periods and 
places where "momentous" changes - according to archaeologists' current inter- 
pretations - are thought to have occurred, to the detriment of "in-between" periods 
in which, by contemporary definitions, not much of consequence happened. 1 The 
authors do not for the most part present systematic overviews of major sites or sets 
of data, but rather they treat issues and topics that are predicated upon the exis- 
tence and analysis of such data. For non-specialists in the field, we recommend 
using this book in conjunction with an overview text (for example, Roaf 1990; Kuhrt 
1995; Sasson et al. 1995) in order to delve further into the evidence on which the 
interpretations and positions presented here are based. 

The Middle East has been, and continues to be, in the forefront of much of the 
world's political calculations and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future. 
It is a region that is home to continuing violent conflicts between governments and 
variously defined social, religious, and ethnic groups, contexts in which archaeol- 
ogy frequently plays (willingly or not) a salient role (Meskell 1998; Silberman 1989; 
Scham 2001; Bernbeck and Pollock 2004). These ongoing conflicts play a sub- 
stantial part in shaping the conditions in which knowledge about archaeology of 
the region is produced and used. More than one chapter grapples with the effects 
of public perceptions about the Middle East on the study of the ancient history and 
archaeology of the region (see also Said 1981). It is a cruel irony that this book was 
in the process of completion during Gulf War II, not long after the U.S. -led inva- 
sion of Afghanistan, and amidst the continuing violence in Israel and the Occupied 
Territories. The implications and responsibilities for those of us who work in and 
study the remains of the past in this region are immense. 

On a more strictly academic level, at various times in its history Near Eastern 
archaeology has stood in the theoretical and methodological forefront of the disci- 
pline of archaeology. It would, however, be difficult to argue for such a prominent 
position for the field these days (cf. Yoffee 1995). Many of the general themes that 
are sources of vibrant debate in other parts of the world - for example, whether 
emphasis is placed on study of individuals and small groups or on larger collectivi- 
ties, or on questions of meaning as opposed to external causalities of change - have 


resulted as yet in little sustained debate in archaeology in the Middle East. By 
broaching some of these issues here and seeking to examine older topics in novel 
ways, we hope to push the boundaries of the field and encourage work that engages 
with problems central to the discipline of archaeology as a whole. 

As editors, we have found ourselves confronted with several challenges to our 
initial, idealistic conceptions of what a book with such goals should look like. The 
political economy of book production in the U.S. today dictates that total length 
be held within relatively narrow limits, due to cost as well as marketing assump- 
tions about how much particular audiences are prepared to read. These limits 
placed constraints on the number of contributions and the lengths of each chapter. 
We would have liked the book to be more diverse in its geographic and temporal 
coverage and in the topics covered: there is, for example, little or no discussion of 
Iran or the Gulf states or of "Islamic archaeology." A second problem that we con- 
fronted was the difficulty in finding authors willing to write about certain topics. 
This was particularly challenging for some of the controversial issues, especially 
those that touch directly on the intertwining of archaeology and modern political 
issues, presumably due to individuals' concerns about limiting future research or 
even jeopardizing a career. 

One of the distinctive aspects of the study of the ancient Near East is imparted 
by the variety of practitioners who participate in it. These include archaeologists - 
whether trained anthropologically or in culture historically oriented traditions - but 
also art historians, ancient historians, and scholars with specialties in the study of 
ancient languages. The contributors to this volume include scholars from all of these 
fields. These different specialties and associated educational backgrounds hold the 
potential to produce a truly vibrant field of study, in which similar issues may be 
viewed from quite different perspectives and the topics emphasized and questions 
posed may vary considerably. Both women and men are actively engaged in the 
field, but despite our efforts, we were unable to achieve a true gender balance among 
our contributors. However, the place where this volume is least successful in rep- 
resenting the actual balance of the field's practitioners is geographic: although both 
European and North American scholars are well represented, only two contribu- 
tors are Middle Easterners. 

Geographic Overview 

The Middle East has no hard and fast geographic boundaries. It is a modern politi- 
cal designation that extends from Turkey to Iran or Afghanistan and southwards to 
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (see figure 1.1). Most scholars use the term Near 
East to designate this same region in pre-modern times. 2 In this book, we use 
"Middle East" whenever we speak of modern-day entities and practices ("Western 
Asia" might be another alternative) but retain "Near East" for references to ancient 
times (e.g., the ancient Near East). 

The Middle East encompasses much geographic and environmental diversity. 
However, the region as a whole shares some general climatic characteristics, 




especially hot, dry summers and cool to cold, moist winters. Paleoclimatic data indi- 
cate that during the early Holocene the rainy season lasted longer than today, along 
with higher summer and cooler winter temperatures. The transition to somewhat 
less favorable modern climatic conditions began approximately 6,000 years ago 
(COHMAP 1988; Hole 1994; Wilkinson 2003:ch. 2). 

Geographers and botanists have divided the Middle East into a number of zones, 
based on features of the natural vegetation and topography. 3 These include the flat, 
alluvial plains of lowland Iraq, which are classified as sub-desert, with limited, scrub 
vegetation except in the immediate proximity of rivers; the rolling hills of northern 
Iraq and Syria and the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros mountains, with steppe 
vegetation; the high mountains and mountain valleys of the Taurus, Zagros, and 
Elburz ranges, which support forest vegetation and grassland; the high plateaus of 
Iran and Anatolia, the former a near desert, the latter characterized by steppe and 
grassland vegetation; and the coastal plains of the Mediterranean, Caspian Sea, and 
the Persian Gulf, each with a distinctive vegetational profile (scrub forest along the 
Mediterranean, sub-tropical vegetation at the Caspian shores, and salt-tolerant 
plants along the Gulf). 

The distributions of wild plants and animals, the land and water resources nec- 
essary to support agriculture and animal husbandry, and raw materials including 
various types of stones, metals, and woods are often argued to be key to under- 
standing historical developments in the region. The Fertile Crescent - an arc 
extending from modern-day Israel in the southwest up through Jordan, Lebanon, 
and Syria, over to Iraq, and down the line of the Zagros mountains in Iran - is 
generally acknowledged to be the area where the early domesticates, including 
cereals (especially wheat and barley), legumes, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs, were 
developed from wild populations. Other wild plants, including fruits, nuts, and 
legumes, as well as animals, such as gazelle, onager, and a variety of deer, were 
available in and around the Fertile Crescent and were important sources of food 
and other materials. 

The considerable topographic diversity of many parts of the Middle East as well 
as the early domestication of animals amenable to being herded over considerable 
distances (principally sheep and goat) have played a key role in settlement strate- 
gies from the distant past to the present. Sheep and goat can graze and browse in 
areas where agriculture is impractical, allowing the use of large stretches of land 
that would otherwise yield only limited food resources usable by people. Seasonal 
transhumance, especially movements between lowlands and highlands, has long 
been practiced in parts of the Middle East, allowing more effective use of available 
resources, separation of flocks from fields at critical times in the growing season, 
and as a political strategy to avoid the predations of rapacious governments. Pur- 
suing a range of modes of subsistence and degrees of mobility has enabled Middle 
Eastern peoples to remain flexible in the face of the vagaries of harsh environments 
and political systems (Rowton 1973; Adams 1974, 1981; Henry 1989; Wilkinson 

The distributions of other natural resources, especially stones, metal ores, high 
quality woods, and water, have also influenced the history of the Middle East. The 


absence of metals and dearth of stone and wood in the alluvial lowlands of 
Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) are widely cited, especially in contrast to the pres- 
ence of these materials in the surrounding mountain and plateau regions (Algaze 
1989). Although a number of scholars have argued compellingly that the poverty 
of natural resources in the Mesopotamian lowlands has been exaggerated (Van de 
Mieroop 2002), there is little question that exchange, alliances, and military adven- 
tures have all been spurred by, among other things, the desire for resources that 
were not locally available. Already in Paleolithic times, items such as marine shell 
were exchanged over long distances (Hole and Flannery 1968:160), a testimony to 
the scale of interactions well before the appearance of state and urban societies or 
even village communities. 

Modes of transportation, of people and goods, are key to permitting and con- 
straining interactions among people. The first attestations of domesticated pack 
animals - donkeys - date to the fourth millennium B.C.E.; the camel was not 
domesticated until much later. Prior to the fourth millennium, overland transport 
was dependent on the human back. Riverine transport by boat has been used since 
at least the late fifth millennium B.C.E. (Safar et al. 1981), a far easier and more 
effective way to move people and goods than overland, at least in the downstream 
direction. Maritime movements became important in the third millennium, if not 

Brief History of Archaeological Work in the Middle East 

Some of the earliest explorations of archaeological remains in the Middle East at 
the beginning of the 1 9th century occurred well before archaeology existed as a 
clearly defined field of study. 4 Two principal and interrelated driving forces under- 
lay the early explorations. One was colonialism, with its attendant efforts to main- 
tain control over knowledge production in colonial holdings and to appropriate 
resources of all kinds for the benefit of the colonizers. In the case of archaeology, 
colonialism's impact is evident in the race to fill European museums with unusual 
and exotic treasures and in expeditions and even "educational travel" that sought 
to catalog and systematize knowledge of everything from flora to fauna to ancient 
monuments, the most famous being Napoleon's in Egypt. The second inspiration 
for archaeological work in the Middle East was the Bible. Numerous individuals 
traveled to the region - especially the areas that are today Israel, Jordan, and the 
Palestinian territories - in a quest to identify places known from the Bible and 
thereby authenticate, if indirectly, biblical stories. 

Together, these two sources of motivation - colonial sovereignty and religiously 
inspired travels - contributed to the construction of the ancient (pre-Islamic) Near 
Eastern past as being part of Western heritage, the famous "cradle of [our] civi- 
lization" (Bahrani 1998; Pollock, Steele, this volume). This endeavor was made all 
the easier by the fact that there were very few native Middle Eastern archaeologists 
or other scholars interested in the pre-Islamic past prior to the nationalist move- 


ments of the 20th century, thus eliminating any likely counter-claims to the appro- 
priation of the Middle Eastern past by the West. 

The early practitioners of archaeology included diplomats, military officers, 
missionaries, mining engineers, and businessmen. Monumental stone architecture, 
most notably from northern Mesopotamia (Iraq), and inscribed artifacts were the 
subject of much of the earliest scholarly attention. Already in the 1770s, Carsten 
Niebuhr, the one surviving member of an ill-fated expedition to Persia (Iran), had 
copied cuneiform inscriptions still standing at the Achaemenid capital of Persepo- 
lis. These and subsequently discovered examples from Mesopotamia formed the 
basis upon which a variety of individuals in western Europe began the attempt to 
decipher the script - cuneiform - and the ancient languages it was used to write 
(Zimansky, this volume). 

The earliest work relied principally on studies of standing monuments, but by 
the middle of the 1800s, excavations - albeit more like treasure hunts by today's 
standards - were becoming increasingly common. They were predicated on the 
growing realization that the mounds dotting the landscape in many areas held 
archaeological remains. It was not, however, until nearly the end of the 19th century, 
in Petrie's work at Tell el-Hesi, that what we today consider a basic principle - atten- 
tion to stratigraphy - began to be incorporated into excavations. A further method- 
ological breakthrough around the turn of the 20th century allowed excavators for 
the first time to distinguish mudbrick, one of the most common building materials 
used in the region in the past. 

Already by the turn of the 20th century, one of the enduring characteristics of 
archaeology of the Middle East was well established: the involvement of a mixture 
of archaeologists, architects, art historians, and philologists. This diversity of dif- 
ferent scholarly interests and backgrounds has, on the one hand, resulted in a variety 
of different approaches to the subject matter, including emphases on different kinds 
of research questions and use of a variety of kinds of data to answer them. On the 
other hand, different specialists have all too often remained isolated in their work, 
either ignorant of what others are doing in related fields or dismissive of those 
approaches as less useful or reliable than their own (see Zimansky, this volume). 
These divisions tend to be perpetuated in many educational programs that track 
students in one direction, with little or no exposure to related fields. 

Anthropological approaches to the study of the ancient Near East were relatively 
late in coming, and they remain to this day in the minority. Although it is rarely 
possible - or even helpful - to identify the "first" example of a particular approach, 
Robert Braidwood is often credited with introducing anthropological archaeology 
in the Middle East in the context of his investigations of early village life and the 
beginnings of agriculture. Although some elements of anthropological archaeology 
have become more or less routine in the region - especially systematic regional 
settlement surveys, pioneered in the 1930s (Jacobsen and Adams 1958; Adams 
1962, 1965; see now Wilkinson 2003; Steadman, this volume) - much of the work 
conducted is rooted in European (as distinct from American) scholarly traditions 
that emphasize archaeology's connections to history and art history rather than to 


anthropology (Bernbeck and Pollock 2004). The contributors to this volume rep- 
resent both of these "schools" - the Americanist anthropological tradition and the 
European historical one - helping, we believe, to promote a dialogue between dif- 
ferent perspectives and multiple archaeologies in our studies of the ancient Near 

Looking to the Future 

We hope that the papers in this book will encourage a rethinking and ultimately 
some changes in the practice of scholars concerned with the ancient Near East and 
in this way will also impact the field's contributions to broader scholarship and to 
non-academic discourse. Although there are many directions to which these papers 
point in their critiques and suggestions for constructive reassessment, we identify 
two principal areas that seem to us key. 

The first of these is the realm of fieldwork, generally thought to be the bread 
and butter of archaeology as well as the practice that ultimately produces the ma- 
terial on which assyriologists, ancient historians, and art historians work. Several of 
the authors call for a more self-critical fieldwork practice, not so much in terms of 
the ways in which field methods impact the results of our research but rather in the 
ways in which archaeologists and their work are interwoven with people who live 
in the areas where we work. Second, the range of different approaches to inter- 
preting the material record of the ancient Near East taken by the authors in this 
volume presents a challenge to readers and one with which we hope readers will 
engage. As one peruses these diverse approaches to the study of the past, it is 
perhaps not of primary importance whether or not one agrees with each author's 
arguments. Instead of striving to promote the "best" - often equated with the newest 
- approach, the central point is to appreciate the multiplicity of ways in which 
understandings of the past can be achieved through a range of different perspec- 
tives that are all too often marginalized in our teaching and scholarship. 


1 Zeder (1994) has made a compelling case concerning the common neglect of village- 
based societies in Mesopotamia "after the [Neolithic] revolution." One could also point 
to the dearth of research on the Kassite period (ca. 1600-1150 B.C.E.) , a time during 
which there is relatively little evidence of war or expansionary politics in southern 
Mesopotamia, to suggest that "peacetime" is not seen as a stimulating research topic. 

2 The terms Near East, Middle East, and Far East are legacies of European involvement 
with these parts of the world and especially of British colonialism. Each referred origi- 
nally to a different geographic area. The Near and Middle East designations quickly 
became conflated in popular parlance, and "Near East" has fallen out of common usage, 
except among scholars of the ancient world. 


It should be pointed out that in many, if not most, areas of the Middle East "natural" 
vegetation is something that can only be reconstructed hypothetically - thousands of years 
of human occupation and alteration of the vegetation have created a thoroughly anthro- 
pogenic environment. 

Specification of an exact beginning of archaeological exploration is arbitrary, as it depends 
entirely on one's definition of such enterprises. However, prior to the early 19th century 
there are only isolated examples that might be considered archaeological, and hence we 
use the generally accepted reference to the early 1800s. It is worth mentioning, however, 
that there were occasional explorations of antiquities in ancient times, the best-known 
example being the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus, who commissioned excavations at 
Ur from which he retrieved ancient clay tablets. 


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A Cultural-Historical 

Reinhard Bernbeck 
and Susan Pollock 

Although the goal of this book is not to present a single historical narrative of the 
ancient Near East, non-specialist readers may find the need for a framework within 
which to place the individual contributions. In this chapter, we offer a culture- 
historical overview of the ancient Near East. It cannot be overemphasized that, due 
to its brevity, this summary touches only on certain "highlights" and even these 
only in a most cursory fashion. Because the objective of this overview is to offer a 
basic background culture history, we do not endeavor to challenge standard inter- 
pretations and conventional wisdom; that task is left to authors of individual chap- 
ters. For locations of sites mentioned here and elsewhere in the book, see figures 
2.1-2.2. In what follows, we have kept to the usual names given to periods. Espe- 
cially for historical times, this has the drawback of focusing on dynasties, implying 
that changes of rulers and elite concerns are the most fundamental traits of history. 
We do not subscribe to such a top-down view, but we have adhered to these con- 
ventions for convenience of reference. 


The archaeological record in the Middle East extends back to the Lower Paleolithic. 
There have been numerous isolated finds of Acheulean handaxes but few sites and 
no hominid remains, a situation that is probably attributable to the vagaries of site 
discovery as well as preservation. 

During the Middle Paleolithic period the Middle East comes to occupy a place 
at the forefront of debates concerning relationships between Neandertals and fully 
modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) . The region plays an important role because 
of its location at a key geographic crossroads between Africa, Asia, and Europe as 
well as the unexpectedly early dates for modern human skeletal remains (Shea, this 
volume). The Middle Eastern evidence raises important issues about hominid 



Figure 2.1 Map of Mesopotamia and Iran with archaeological sites marked. Key to sites: I Ur; 2 
Ubaid;3 Uruk;4 Oueili; 5 Lagash; 6 Telloh; 7 Kish; 8 Babylon; 9 Nippur; 10 Abu Salabikh; I I Asmar; 
12 Khafajah; l3Abada; HAssur; 15 Shanidar; 16 Gawra; 17 Nineveh; 18 Nimrud; 19 Hajji Firuz; 20 
Yahya; 2 1 Shahdad; 22 Malyan; 23 Persepolis; 24 Sialk; 25 Godin; 26 Susa; 27 Chogha Zanbil; 28 Brak; 
29 Mari; 30 Mureybit; 3 1 Abu Hureyra; 32 Ebla; 33 Cayonii (authors' original) 

evolutionary pathways, social interactions between different types of hominids, and 
relationships between behavioral and physical characteristics. 


The Middle East was one of the first regions in the world where people began to 
select and care for plants and animals, ultimately leading to their domestication, 
and where decreased mobility translated into the beginnings of more sedentary, 
village-based life. Associated with these transformations was a wide range of sym- 
bolic and ideological changes that have only recently become a serious focus of 
research (Kuijt and Chesson, this volume). Some scholars regard these latter as the 
driving force of Neolithic change (Hodder 1990; Cauvin 1994), whereas others have 
argued that economic (Childe 1928), demographic or ecological (Flannery 1969) 
variables were key. These enormously significant economic, social, and symbolic 
changes in tow characterize what V. Gordon Childe (1941) long ago labeled the 

Figure 2.2 Map of the Levant and southeastern Turkey with archaeological sites marked. Key to 
sites: I 'Ain Ghazal; 2 Jericho; 3 Dhra'; 4 Nahal Hemar; 5 Arad; 6 Masada; 7 Lachish; 8 Hebron; 9 
Miqne-Ekron; 10 Jerusalem; I I Gibeon; 12 Bethel; 13 Shiloh; 14 Shechem; IS Megiddo; 16 El Wad, 
Skhul.Tabun, Kebara; 17Akko; 18 Qafzeh; 19 Hazor; 20 Byblos (authors' original) 


"Neolithic Revolution" but which might better be referred to as the process of 

The arc of the Fertile Crescent was the principal locus for this suite of changes, 
but neolithization did not occur simultaneously or uniformly throughout the area. 
The Levant and middle Euphrates Valley saw the first efforts at managing wild 
cereals and legumes, that ultimately resulted in their domestication. In the Zagros 
and Taurus mountain valleys and foothills, human intervention that led to domes- 
tication focused first on animals, especially goats, sheep, pig, and, somewhat later, 
cattle. Villages, the existence of which implies a less mobile way of life, appear in 
the Levant in the Natufian period, as does impressive architecture in southeastern 
Turkey prior to the occurrence of morphologically domesticated plants or animals. 
In the Zagros mountains the management and domestication of animals seems to 
have begun before the first sedentary villages appear. 

Numerous models have been proposed to explain why food production (agri- 
culture and animal husbandry) began when and where it did (e.g., Childe 1928; 
Braidwood 1960; Flannery 1969; Moore 1982; Hole 1989a). Rather than viewing 
sedentism and mobility as two clear-cut, dichotomous categories, scholars are 
increasingly drawing on ethnographic as well as archaeological literature to recog- 
nize a multitude of types and degrees of mobility. A traditional indicator of seden- 
tariness is architecture. The earliest communities in which people constructed 
dwellings, rather than using naturally occurring shelters such as caves and over- 
hangs, contain semi-subterranean, single-room, round abodes with walls of poles 
and reeds or reed mats. By Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), villages consisted of 
multi-roomed, rectangular structures constructed of mudbrick that may have 
housed extended families (Byrd 2000; Moore et al. 2000). Although architecture 
can reveal a wide range of information on social organization and relations, it is 
increasingly evident that it does not, by itself, allow the specification of degrees or 
types of sedentism. Recent studies are focusing primarily on biological indicators 
that can show whether there was year-round occupation - and, by inference, if 
there was not - and the occurrence of debris-strewn floors as signs of short-term 

During the period when the principal transformations from hunting-gathering, 
highly mobile lifeways to more sedentary, agricultural, village-based life were taking 
place in many locations across the Fertile Crescent, there were also spectacular 
changes in communal and regional ritual practices. In addition to the oft-cited skull 
separation, plastering, and display that characterize the PPNB in the Levant (see 
Verhoeven, Steadman, this volume), there appeared an abundance of figurines and 
statuary throughout the Fertile Crescent (Kuijt and Chesson, this volume). In the 
foothills of the Taurus mountains, aceramic Neolithic sites such as Nevali C or i; 
Cayonii, and GobekliTepe have revealed an awesome array of non-domestic build- 
ings, carved stone stelae with representations of animals, mythical beasts, and 
anthropomorphic elements, and sculptures (Hauptmann 1999; Ozdogan 1999; 
Schmidt 2000). These and other indications of ritual practices suggest that the 
numerous changes in daily living - new ways of acquiring and undoubtedly also 
preparing food, different kinds of communities and attachments to places - involved 


the establishment of a new habitus and its transmission to successive generations 
by means of elaborate and regionally variable forms of ritual. 

In the Levant, the aceramic Neolithic was followed by the abandonment of many 
communities, including some of the largest, presumably in favor of a more mobile 
way of life. Some scholars have suggested that these abandonments were due to 
localized resource depletion as a result of farming, fuel cutting, and grazing 
(Kohler-Rollefson 1992). In the rolling hills of northern Syria, Iraq, and south- 
eastern Turkey, Neolithic villages continued to flourish, in a series of cultural tra- 
ditions known as Hassuna, Samarra, and Halaf. Some researchers have sought the 
beginnings of sociopolitical hierarchies in these later Neolithic traditions, with an 
emphasis on the exchange of elaborately painted pottery thought to have been 
produced by specialists (Davidson and McKerrell 1976; LeBlanc and Watson 1973; 
Watson 1983). Others have investigated the historical trajectory of modes of pro- 
duction and their social implications, examining the organization of labor required 
to construct buildings and make pots, the implications of village layout, and the 
locations of productive activities and storage facilities (Bernbeck 1994, 1995). In 
the last decade there has been increased attention to patterns of subsistence and 
settlement during the later Neolithic, with the recognition that they were much 
more variable than once thought, including localized emphases on wild resources 
and different patterns of mobility (Akkermans 1993; Zeder 1994; Bernbeck et al. 

By Samarran times (ca. 6400-5800 B.C.E.) people were practicing irrigation 
agriculture, as indicated by plant remains recovered, the locations of agricultural 
settlements in areas where rainfall farming is unlikely to have been feasible, and the 
remains of irrigation channels (Oates and Oates 1976). By 5500 B.C.E., if not 
before, settlements extended into the alluvial Mesopotamian plains, generally 
believed to indicate that irrigation agriculture was well enough developed to permit 
people to settle in this presumably inhospitable environment. However, recent 
paleoclimatic data suggest that southern Mesopotamia may have supported a 
moister environment at the time, with marshes, flood basins, and a high water table 
that could sustain a variety of subsistence practices including flood-recession agri- 
culture (Sanlaville 1989; Wilkinson 2003:87-89). Coincident with settlement of the 
alluvial lowlands came large, free-standing, tripartite structures that may have 
housed extended families. This residential pattern contrasts markedly to the one in 
dry-farming areas where agglutinative architecture, probably housing smaller stem 
families, prevailed (Bernbeck 1995). 


The early occupation of the southern Mesopotamian plains has been dubbed the 
Ubaid tradition (ca. 6000-4000 B.C.E.), distinguished by particular styles of archi- 
tecture (especially the tripartite house with long central hall and smaller rooms on 
the two long sides), pottery, and other artifacts such as seals. Similar pottery - char- 
acterized by black to brown painting on a well-fired, buff-colored body - extends 


well into the Zagros mountain valleys of Iran, the northern Mesopotamian plains 
of Syria and Iraq, and the Taurus foothills of Turkey. These material culture 
similarities suggest widespread communication and interactions, although their 
character remains unclear, especially in light of the limited evidence for substantial 
long-distance exchange (Pollock 1999:81-86; Frangipane 2001; Nissen 2001). 

In some areas, especially in southern Mesopotamia and the lowland plains 
of southwestern Iran, the Ubaid period saw the emergence of a small number of 
settlements markedly larger than most others and distinguished by the presence 
of temples, central storehouses, and cemeteries. At some sites, including small 
ones such as Tell Abada in central Iraq, there are indications that one household 
stood out from others, based on its size and unusual concentrations of artifacts 
and associated burials. This distinction continued over generations. Despite the 
dearth of exotic or other obvious "luxury" goods and low degrees of mortuary 
differentiation - except in lowland southwestern Iran - the presence of these 
"temple towns" and limited residential differentiation have convinced many 
researchers that Ubaid societies in southern Mesopotamia and southwestern Iran 
saw the emergence of hierarchical social structures, whether based on ritual or 
political differentiation (Jasim 1989; Pollock 1989; Hole 1989b; Stein 1994; Wright 
1994 [1983]). 

Substantial copper-based metallurgy is indicated by finds of metalwork of various 
kinds in fifth millennium sites in Turkey, northern Iraq, the Levant, and Iran. Most 
metalworking seems to have occurred in those areas where sources of ore were 
present (Moorey 1994:255-256; Chegini et al. 2000). 

The fourth millennium B.C.E. saw the emergence of urbanized societies, which 
scholars traditionally characterize as states (but see Forest, this volume), in south- 
ern Mesopotamia and surrounding areas. In the alluvial lowlands there was an 
explosion of settlements, in sheer numbers and in size, during this time, which is 
known as the Uruk period. By the end of this period, the largest city, Uruk, extended 
over more than 200 ha. and was probably home to at least 20,000 residents. Record- 
ing technologies underwent rapid development, with the elaboration of clay tokens 
and the first appearances of cylinder seals (cylinders with the designs carved around 
their circumference and rolled to leave an impression [Charvat, this volume]), 
clay bullae containing tokens, and clay tablets with numerical signs and ultimately 
writing (Zimansky, this volume). Seals as well as other artifacts bearing iconogra- 
phy depict images of physical violence by some people against others as well 
as scenes of hierarchy and dominance. There is widespread evidence for tribute 
in labor and products, with dependent labor compensated in the form of food 

Southern Mesopotamia remained a heavily agrarian society in this as well as sub- 
sequent periods. Wool production seems to have achieved major importance during 
Uruk times, with the weaving of woolen textiles becoming a major Mesopotamian 
industry for both local consumption and export (Green 1980; McCorriston 1997; 
Pollock 1999:103-110). Domesticated donkeys appeared in Mesopotamia at this 
time, marking a significant breakthrough in overland transportation possibilities: a 
pack of loaded donkeys could transport substantial quantities of goods or people 


over long distances (Wright 2001:127), although boats - attested at least since 
Ubaid times - were probably often the preferred means. 

By the middle of the Uruk period, southern Mesopotamian-style pottery, seals, 
and architectural styles begin to turn up in distant areas, including the middle 
Euphrates Valley, Taurus foothill zone of southeastern Turkey, northern 
Mesopotamian plains, and valleys of the Zagros mountains. By Late Uruk numer- 
ical tablets are also found in areas far distant from the alluvial lowlands. Interpre- 
tations of this "Uruk expansion" remain debated. Many scholars have argued for 
some kind of colonization of "the peripheries" by southern Mesopotamian state(s) 
for purposes of controlling resources, especially raw materials unavailable in the 
alluvial lowlands (Algaze 1993, 2001). Others have contested this notion, con- 
tending that southern states were not able to exert substantial political or economic 
control over such long distances or that there are other equally plausible ways to 
account for the observed similarities in material culture (Stein 1999; Rothman 
2001). Regardless of the ultimate explanation for the widespread appearance of 
similar artifact and architectural styles, it is clear that interregional interactions were 
extensive during the fourth millennium, reaching not only the areas already men- 
tioned but even as far as Egypt, where several of the distinctive Uruk clay cones - 
a form of architectural decoration - as well as occasional other Mesopotamian items 
have been found (von derWay 1987). 

Increased research in the "peripheral" areas of Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, 
and western and central Iran has shown that there were indigenous Late Chalcol- 
ithic traditions in most of these regions. These local traditions exhibit distinctive 
administrative, political, and economic systems and their own forms of internal 
hierarchy and inequalities, based on the exploitation of locally available resources. 
In areas near sources of ores, copper-based metallurgy developed into substantial 
industries (Chegini et al. 2000; Frangipane 2001; Malek Shahmirzadi 2002). 
In many regions agriculture, based primarily on rainfall farming rather than the 
irrigation-based cultivation that characterized the alluvial lowlands, was highly 

In the Levant, copper-based metallurgy was a major industry, probably involv- 
ing a high degree of specialized production. Nonetheless, settlements exhibit little 
internal residential differentiation and few public buildings. The metal artifacts pro- 
duced were not primarily tools but rather items used for display and ornamenta- 
tion (Levy 1986; Kerner 2001). 

Third Millennium B.C.E. 

During the first two-thirds of the third millennium, there was pronounced urban- 
ization in many parts of the Near East, although the extent to which it occurred 
at the expense of rural settlement varied from region to region. The alluvial 
lowlands of southern Mesopotamia saw a hyperurbanization in which towns and 
walled cities grew to massive proportions, apparently through the incorporation 
of former village dwellers. The Early Dynastic period (ca. 2900-2350 B.C.E.) 


was distinguished by city-states - politically distinct entities with relatively small 
territories that included one or a few cities and a rural hinterland. The political 
landscape was the scene of shifting alliances as well as chronic conflict, occasion- 
ally breaking out into war, despite the overarching cultural and economic ties 
among city-states (Postgate 1992). Southern Mesopotamia was characterized by an 
"oikos" economy in which large, hierarchically organized households - whether in 
the hands of wealthy elites or institutions such as temples - controlled land, other 
means of production, and a dependent labor force that produced much of what the 
household consumed (Pollock 1999:ch.5). There is evidence for flourishing trade 
in a wide range of materials and finished products, with metals, stones, exotic 
woods, and other items reaching the lowlands, in exchange for textiles, grain, and 

In northern Mesopotamia substantial urbanization also occurred during this 
time, although cities tended to be smaller than in the South. Many consisted of a 
high citadel, where administrative and cultic activities were located, and a more 
extensive, residential "lower town." Most cities were walled, and many were circu- 
lar in shape (Kranzhugel; Weiss 1986). Many, but by no means all, of the urban 
centers of northern Mesopotamia were located in areas where rainfall-based 
farming was possible. In many areas, good pasturage for animals was also available. 
In addition to agrarian production, long-distance exchange and the specialized craft 
production that supported it helped fuel the establishment and growth of urban 
settlement in the region (Heinz 2002). Rural settlements, which remained a much 
more visible part of the landscape than in the South, also included specialized com- 
munities where agricultural surpluses were accumulated and stored (Schwartz 

The first half of the third millennium was also a time of urbanization in the 
Levant, but urban centers were modest in size and their growth was accompanied 
by substantial ruralization, involving considerable population increase in rural areas 
(Falconer 1994). Important exchange connections linked coastal Levantine cities 
with Egypt, the products of which entered into overland trade within northern 
Mesopotamia and thence to the alluvial lowlands, Iran, and beyond. 

In southern and western Iran, a set of material culture distinct from that char- 
acteristic of Mesopotamia, and including a writing system known as Proto-Elamite, 
was in use. Elam and Awan coalesced as political entities, partly in response to peri- 
odic threats from the Mesopotamian city-states of Lagash and Kish. Trade between 
Iran and Mesopotamia and booty resulting from raids are attested by the presence 
of durable items, including "intercultural style" stone vessels, produced at places 
such as Tepe Yahya in southern Iran, as well as lapis lazuli from Badakhshan 
(Afghanistan) and carnelian, which were worked into beads and seals at Shahr-i 
Sokhta and other places. Goods were moved by overland transport as well as by 
river and sea-borne routes (Kohl 1978; Potts 1994:37; Potts 1999). 

The landscape of relatively small, politically autonomous states throughout much 
of the Near East was substantially altered with the rise to power of the Akkadian 
dynasty (also known as Sargonic after the first king, Sargon) in Mesopotamia. 
Named for the capital, Akkad, its five principal kings were able to bring much of 


Mesopotamia under the rule of a single state, often considered to be the first empire 
(Liverani 1993, and this volume; Forest, this volume). The conquests of the 
Sargonic kings, especially Naram-Sin, resulted in the imposition of royally 
appointed Mesopotamian governors and military garrisons in places as distant as 
northern Syria and western Iran. However, like later empires in the ancient Near 
East, the Sargonic one is best characterized as a network of nodes and links, with 
large areas in between that were not dominated by the imperial center. 

Substantial tribute as well as booty from foreign conquests flowed into 
Mesopotamia under the Sargonic reign. Commercial ties were also promoted, and 
in Sargonic-period texts we read of maritime trade with the lands of Magan (the 
Oman peninsula) and Meluhha (Indus Valley) . A wide variety of goods were traded, 
including copper, silver, gold, tin, carnelian, lapis, ivory, pearls, woods, linen, and 
exotic animals such as apes and birds. 

The Akkadian conquests in northern Mesopotamia brought about substantial 
destruction in some major cities in the region, resulting in temporary abandon- 
ments. In other cases, as at Mari and Brak, new buildings were constructed by 
Akkadian overlords. Texts tell of the appointment of daughters of the Mesopotamian 
kings as high priestesses in key cities, a practice also followed within the 
Mesopotamian heartland. Southern rule led to a reorientation of trading relation- 
ships toward the imperial center. In places where the Akkadian rulers were unable 
to control trade routes, these were disrupted, in an apparent attempt to monopo- 
lize trade. These efforts coincided with a temporary decline in Levantine trade with 
Egypt (Heinz 2002). 

Southwestern Iran - lowland Elam - fell under the direct control of the Akka- 
dian kings and was governed by Mesopotamian officials. A military garrison was 
established at Susa, and much of the daily as well as administrative material culture 
found there is stylistically similar to that from Mesopotamia. Some texts were 
written in Akkadian. 

Frequent rebellions, both within Mesopotamia and outside it, challenged 
Sargonic rule, and when the empire finally fell apart, approximately 100 years 
after Sargon's ascent to power, Mesopotamia returned to a political landscape of 
independent city-states similar to that of the Early Dynastic period. Not long after, 
ca. 2100 B.C.E., a dynasty based in the southern city of Ur once again created a 
substantial empire, which scholars today refer to as Ur III (or Third Dynasty of 
Ur) . Under the Ur III kings, the core of the empire in southern Mesopotamia was 
divided into a series of administrative provinces, each headed by a governor 
appointed by the king but derived from a local family. Northern Mesopotamia, 
including the area around Assur, and western Iran (Elam and Awan) were con- 
quered and placed under the control of military governors. A complex structure of 
taxation was imposed, with an elaborate bureaucracy to administer it. Systems of 
weights and measures, the writing system, and the calendar were highly standard- 
ized, in part to train a scribal class. The Ur III state maintained trade ties to foreign 
lands, and there are indications of independent merchants who were employed to 
organize trade on behalf of the state. Highland Elam, including the city of Anshan, 
was at times bound to Ur through marriages of local rulers to daughters of the Ur 


kings; on other occasions, military attacks - perhaps aimed at acquiring booty - 
were launched against Elam. 

As the Ur III state expanded its control into neighboring highland regions inhab- 
ited in part by nomadic groups, conquests were followed by demands for tribute. 
As a result of growing demands placed upon them, people living in these regions 
moved increasingly into the lowlands in hopes of finding a more secure life there. 
These movements of Amorites into Mesopotamia are documented in Ur III texts, 
and ancient scribes blamed Amorite "invasions" for the gradual collapse of the 
central government around 2000 B.C.E., although internal problems, probably 
related to the overblown bureaucracy, also played a role. Under its last king, Ibbi- 
Sin, the Ur III state weakened substantially, and the king was ultimately captured 
and taken as prisoner to Elam (Charpin 1995; Kirsch and Larsen 1995; Potts 

The late third millennium saw an abandonment of urban communities in the 
Levant. Although agriculture and small villages were not totally forsaken, there was 
a heavy emphasis on mobile pastoralism (Dever 1992; Haiman 1996). Urban 
centers reappeared in the early second millennium. Although these Middle Bronze 
Age urban communities were home to a larger proportion of the population than 
had been the case in the Early Bronze Age of the third millennium, they, too, do 
not seem to have been able to dominate the rural settlements around them, which 
maintained a considerable degree of self-determinacy (Falconer 1994). 

Second Millennium B.C.E. 

A series of regional states arose during the first half of the second millennium, 
several of which intermittently gained substantial control over both neighboring and 
more distant regions through a combination of conquest and alliances. The first of 
these were the southern city-states of Isin and Larsa and the northern one of Assur; 
they were followed by Mari, on the western Euphrates, and Babylon. Cross-cutting 
the individual political units and their changing alliances and rivalries was an "inter- 
nationalization" supported by trade, intermarriage, and regular travels on the part 
of professionals, including scribes, doctors, musicians, and diviners. Many of these 
city-states were controlled by dynasties bearing Amorite names, widely assumed to 
represent the settling down of former nomads who had gradually moved into the 
alluvial lowlands over centuries (Charpin 1995; Kuhrt 1995; Whiting 1995). 

The Amorite conqueror, Shamshi-Adad I, took power in Assyria in the mid- 19th 
century and from a base on the Tigris not far from Assur conquered other city- 
states including Mari, Nineveh, and Shubat-Enlil. Assur's wealth and power derived 
to a substantial degree from trade with Anatolia in tin, textiles, silver, and gold, a 
commercial connection that is particularly well documented through texts found at 
the site of Kultepe/Kanesh in Anatolia. The merchant-capital-based trade was run 
by merchants from Assur, some of whom settled in Kultepe/Kanesh to further their 
family businesses, and in doing so adopted the local culture so thoroughly that their 
material remains are almost completely indistinguishable archaeologically from 


those of the native inhabitants (Ozgiic 1963). Merchandise was transported by 
donkey caravans, with tin and textiles brought into Anatolia from Assur and silver 
and gold moved in the opposite direction. Merchants in Assur bought tin - perhaps 
coming from Iran - and textiles for silver and sold them in Kanesh for larger quan- 
tities of silver and gold. Control over the tin trade was lucrative, since sources of 
tin were few and demand for it, as a constituent of bronze, high (Yoffee 1981; Larsen 
1987; Veenhof 1995). 

Of the various competing states, it was Babylon that achieved the most exten- 
sive political control. Under king Hammurabi, Babylon began to expand its terri- 
tory around 1760 B.C.E., until it controlled an area approximately the size of the 
Ur III empire. Like most of the smaller political entities that it incorporated, the 
Old Babylonian state was concerned to ensure that ample supplies of silver, gold, 
copper, tin, lapis, carnelian, exotic woods, horses, etc. would find their way to 
Babylon. Both private merchants and others associated with the state were involved 
in trading ventures. The extensive polity assembled under Hammurabi did not 
much outlast his death, as was also the case with the Old Assyrian state under 

The time between ca. 1600 and 1200 B.C.E. is exceptional because of the rela- 
tive stability, despite conflicts, and the establishment of diplomatic relationships 
between a number of major polities, among them Egypt, the Hittites in Anatolia, 
the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia, and Hurri-Mittani in northern Syria. The best 
information on these connections comes from Egyptian texts at Tell el-Amarna, 
Pharaoh Akhenaten's capital. Rulers and their elite apparently sent highly prized 
goods such as gold, lapis lazuli, and horses to one other and often received similar 
items in return. The function of these gifts was less their use-value than the pres- 
tige that came with giving them away, thus enhancing relationships with other 
friendly regimes (Liverani 1979). 

There were, of course, episodes of war. The Hittites established a powerful state 
in central Anatolia, the capital of which was Hattusha. This dynasty, which lasted 
from ca. 1650-1200 B.C.E., fought with the Hurri-Mittani, Egyptians and espe- 
cially their internal enemy, the Kashkaeans, a sort of guerrilla group living in the 
mountains north of Hattusa. 

Hittite culture and religion display a tradition fundamentally different from 
Mesopotamia. The language was Indo-European, written in cuneiform (Zimansky, 
this volume). Deities were worshiped near springs and in rock chambers as well as 
at other prominent natural spots, and magic played an important role (Haas 1994; 
Klinger 2002) . Hittite ideology forced the king to worship all deities of his empire 
in their location. This necessitated unmanageably long travels and was finally solved 
by building numerous temples in the capital, requiring a considerable extension of 
the city (Neve 1996; Seeher 2002). 

The southeastern border of the Hittite realm became the home of the Mittani 
kingdom. At the time of its greatest extension, Hurro-Mittani domination reached 
from the Mediterranean coast in the west across the northern Syrian steppes to the 
edge of the Zagros mountains in the east (Wilhelm 1982). The region was settled 
by a Hurrian-speaking population, although members of the elite had Indo-Iranian 


names, and in one written contract, Indo-Iranian gods are mentioned. The capital 
of the kingdom, Wassukanni, has not yet been identified, and other evidence about 
this polity is scanty. Our limited state of knowledge about them has led to a highly 
simplified historiography, according to which Hurrian lower classes were ruled by 
an Indo-Iranian elite. The desire to confirm Mittani domination over Hurrians 
through archaeology has resulted in misguided, often racist attempts to identify 
an ethnically distinct "Hurrian" culture (Diakonoff 1972; Kammenhuber 1977; 
Barrelet 1978; Borker-Klahn 1988). 

Before Mittani power was established, a Hittite king had attacked Babylon, 
putting an end to the Old Babylonian dynasty and taking away the statue of the 
main god, Marduk. The ensuing political vacuum was soon filled by the Kassites 
who established a new dynasty in Babylon and emerged as a power to be reckoned 
with for the next 400 years. Judging by their names Kassites were neither of Sumer- 
ian nor Semitic origin. In contrast to their predecessors, the Kassite dynasty was 
able to achieve long-lasting political control over southern Mesopotamia, only being 
overthrown by Elamite invaders in the twelfth century B.C.E. Kassite kings under- 
took substantial building programs and restorations in several old southern 
Mesopotamian cities, often following earlier architectural traditions. They also pro- 
moted traditional Babylonian religious rituals. Connections with Egypt were 
advanced by regular contacts and royal marriages that were accompanied by lavish 
gift-giving as well as more formal trading ties. The distances over which trade and 
gift-giving connections reached are made clear by finds of Kassite seals at Thebes 
in Greece and a Mycenaean oxhide ingot in Mesopotamia (Brinkman 1972; 
Charpin 1995; Sommerfeld 1995). 

In this period, the Levant was spotted with small, rarely independent city-states 
such as Ugarit, Kumidi, Hazor, or Gezer. Much of their richness was derived from 
their favorable locations along maritime or overland trade routes. These states 
typically consisted of a fortified city on the coast plus surrounding countryside 
with a population living in small villages. They had close ties with Egypt, which, for 
much of the second half of the second millennium, dominated the region 
(Weinstein 1981). Among the chief products of the Canaanite states were grain and 

Ugarit is of particular interest because of the large number of unique religious 
and mythological texts found there (Klengel et al. 1989:278-279; Tsumura 1999). 
Historically of major importance are letters from the last days of the city that report 
threatening ships of an unknown enemy. A connection has been drawn to those 
groups called by the Egyptians "Sea Peoples" (Drews 1993). Among these were the 
"Peleshet," known in the Bible as Philistines, who destroyed a number of cities along 
the southern Levantine coast and settled there, for instance at Ashkelon, Gaza, and 
Ekron. In the post-destruction layers, close stylistic similarity in ceramics with 
Mycenean products from the Aegean point to the origins of the "Sea Peoples" 
(Dothan 1992; Knapp 1992). However, this does not necessarily mean that the "Sea 
Peoples" were the cause of the breakdown of the Hittite and Mittani empires. 
Rather, they may have been the final stroke needed to bring down overspecialized 
societies heavily dependent on external relations. 


Further east, on the upper Tigris, Assyria had risen to power with the Middle 
Assyrian empire (ca. 1365-1077 B.C.E.), after the demise of the Mittani. Assyrian 
expansion was oriented towards Babylonia as well as the west, where recent exca- 
vations have exposed palaces and fortress-like buildings of possibly defensive func- 
tion (Kuhne 1983; Akkermans and Rossmeisl 1990). Middle Assyrian kings began 
to put in place imperial policies of expansion that became the mainstay of later 
Neo-Assyrian imperialism: large-scale deportations (Freydank 1975) and the legiti- 
mation of war by invocation of the main god, Assur, who was turned into a war 
god (Nissen 1998:88). 

Assyrian desires to take control of southern Mesopotamia did not lead to major 
successes but proved useful to a third party, the Elamites in southwestern Iran (ca. 
1450-1100 B.C.E.). When the Middle Assyrian king Assur-Dan attempted to 
conquer Babylon unsuccessfully in 1161 B.C.E., the Elamite ruler Shutruk- 
Nahhunte followed immediately, conquering Babylonia and taking major monu- 
ments to his capital at Susa (Carter and Stolper 1984:32-43; Potts 1999:188-258). 
Many of these were excavated by French expeditions to Susa in the late 19th 
century C.E. and are of premier art historical and historical importance, such as 
the Codex Hammurabi and the "Naram-Sin Stele." 

First Millennium B.C.E. 

In the second millennium B.C.E., Assyria had never been able to subdue more than 
a relatively small territory. With the rise of the Neo-Assyrian empire (ca. 900-610 
B.C.E.), much of the Near East was unified under one political power (Spek 1993; 
Parker 2001). The Assyrians conquered successively Babylonia, Syria, and Pales- 
tine. The Assyrian empire is known largely through excavations at several of the 
imperial capitals including Nineveh, Nimrud, and Dur Sharrukin (Mallowan 1966; 
Albenda 1986; Levine 1986). As opposed to earlier times, Assyrian kings often 
shifted their capital to a new site when coming to power, building major palaces 
and decorating them with orthostats, a Hittite tradition that the Assyrians refined. 
Traditionally orthostats had reliefs of court scenes; now, violent images of war, siege, 
destruction, killing, and deportation prevailed, accompanied by more solemn depic- 
tions of the king in rituals or during hunts. The reliefs often carry annalistic inscrip- 
tions, from which historical events - mostly campaigns against various enemies - 
can be gleaned (Reade 1980; Winter 1981;Villard 1988). 

The expansion of the Neo-Assyrian empire occurred in several phases. In the 
ninth century, most military campaigns were aimed at regions west of the Assyrian 
heartland on the Tigris River. Partly, this may have been due to a desire to secure 
provisions of iron, a metal that quickly became of prime military importance in the 
early first millennium B.C.E. The end of the ninth and the first half of the eighth 
centuries B.C.E. can best be interpreted as a period of consolidation, with little 
further expansion (Bernbeck 1993). In the middle of the eighth century, Tiglat- 
Pileser III restructured the empire and established provincial districts (Garelli 
1991). From his reign on, the empire continually expanded, leading to the 


conquest of Egypt under Assurbanipal (668-631). In the end, this proved fatal. The 
overstretching of resources resulted in a collapse of the empire in 614 B.C.E. 
(Lamprichs 1995). 

Like all other kingdoms and empires of the ancient Near East, the Neo- 
Assyrian one consisted of not much more outside the imperial core than a network 
of "royal highways" (harran sarri; Kessler 1980) and nodes in the form of Assyri- 
anized castles (Liverani 1988). Much of the interstices in this network was proba- 
bly never dominated by the Assyrians, and this was one of the sources of their 
constant need to fight against internal enemies in addition to outward expansion. 
The core region, a territory completely under the power of the Assyrian rulers, was 
expanded over time. The massive interference of Assyrian power on all levels of life 
in this zone has only recently become clear with the synopsis of survey work in 
Upper Mesopotamia by Wilkinson and Barbanes (2000), which reveals a steep 
increase in the later Neo-Assyrian period of small, hamlet-sized and regularly 
spaced villages, often in ecologically marginal regions. This is most likely due to 
resettlement of deportees (Oded 1979). 

Assyria was at war with four neighboring regional entities. Two of these, Baby- 
lonia and Urartu, were major states. Urartu, with its capital Tushpa on the shores 
of Lake Van, had been established in the ninth century B.C.E. by rulers with strong 
relations to Assyria, but afterwards developed independently into a rival of Assyria, 
vying to conquer small city-states on the upper Euphrates. At the end of the eighth 
century B.C.E., the Assyrian king Sargon II ravaged the kingdom but was unable 
to integrate it into his realm. Our sense of the historical events of these times is rel- 
atively sophisticated due to the fact that we have sources from political opponents 
at our disposal (Lanfranchi and Parpola 1990). Still, the Urartian language is not 
yet fully understood (Zimansky, this volume), and for most of its history, only 
monumental stone inscriptions have survived. However, recent stunning archaeo- 
logical discoveries have significantly added to our knowledge about the later periods 
of this polity (Belli 1999; C mn gi r °gl u an d Salvini 2001). Urartu differs not just lin- 
guistically, but also in religious terms from lowland Mesopotamia. Stone stelae were 
placed on passes, road crossings, and salient natural points, but they lack reliefs, 
and the main god Haldi was not represented anthropomorphically (Salvini 1995; 
Zimansky 1995; Smith 2000, 2003). 

Urartu's western neighbor was the central Anatolian kingdom of Phrygia. This 
entity, whose capital Gordion is well known for the incomparable riches of its royal 
tombs (Young 1981), had good relations with Assyria to the east as well as the 
Greeks to the west (Mellink 1965; Muscarella 1989). The Phrygian language, 
for which we do not have many sources, was an Indo-European one related to 
Greek and languages of other peoples then occupying the Balkans. Apparently, 
Phrygian culture had been established not long after the breakdown of the Hittite 
empire around 1200 B.C.E., making an historical link between these two events 

The Hittite court had always had strong political connections to Cilicia and 
Carchemish in the south and southeast, and it is in these regions that we see a con- 
tinuation of Hittite culture in what is today known as the "Neo-Hittite kingdoms" 


(Hawkins 2002). These were mostly small city-states in southeastern Anatolia. They 
continued the use of Luwian (hieroglyphic) writing on stone and the decoration of 
their palaces with orthostats (Bonatz 2001; Zimansky 2002). These city-states were 
interspersed with Aramaic ones (Glassner 2002:38). The latter are identifiable 
through names of the form "Bit X", where "bit" means "house, kin unit" and refers 
to a common (mythical) ancestor. Aramaic became important as an administrative 
language, largely due to its use of an alphabetic script, the precursor of later West 
Semitic scripts, including Hebrew. In contrast to Akkadian, Aramaic was written 
cursively on parchment, ostraka, or stone. Neo-Assyrians used Aramaic as a second 
administrative language (Klengel et al. 1989:342). 

South of the Aramaic-Neo-Hittite realm, the Neo-Assyrians encountered a 
number of kingdoms well known from the Bible. Among those were Damascus, 
Hamath, Moab, Ammon, Edom, as well as Israel and Judah (Sauer 1986). At the 
time of Neo-Assyrian expansion, the Israelite state had disintegrated into a north- 
ern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdom (Finkelstein, this volume). Israel, with 
its capital Samaria, was ruled by the relatively powerful dynasty of Omri that had 
strong connections to the Phoenicians on the Mediterranean coast. This dynasty 
was followed by other kings at Samaria until the final destruction by the Assyrians 
in 722 B.C.E.. Judah, a smaller and economically less attractive state, was not 
touched by this attack (Finkelstein and Silberman 2001:169-228). Soon after, 
however, in 701 B.C.E., Sennacherib took revenge on the rebellious king Hesekiah 
and destroyed large parts of the Judaean countryside but left Jerusalem untouched. 
The reliefs of the destruction of Lachish, the second-ranked city of Judah, figured 
prominently in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh (Ussishkin 1982, 2003). Judah sur- 
vived the end of the Neo-Assyrian empire, but in 586, the Neo-Babylonian king 
Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and took the urban elite into 
captivity in Babylonia. 

Despite their might, brutality, and somewhat sadistic delight in decorating 
palaces with scenes of ultimate violence (Bersani and Dutoit 1985; Davis 
1996:266-285), the Assyrian court was also a center where multiple cultures were 
melded into an impressive imperial art. Artisans from different regions created 
intricate ivory panels for furniture (Winter 1982). Elaborate jewelry of gold and 
precious stones was recently found in the burials of queens at Nimrud. Under 
Sennacherib, a major irrigation system was installed that diverted water from the 
Tigris River in the mountains of the Zagros (Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935). Many 
tablets, most famously Assurbanipal's library containing some 30,000 texts 
(Glassner 2002), provide important insights into literature, religion, astronomy, 
jurisprudence, and other spheres of intellectual life. 

In the late seventh century B.C.E., the Medes, a tribe from the Iranian high- 
lands, gained power and established a capital in Ekbatana (Frye 1984; Brown 
1986). Together with southern Babylonian groups, they were able to put an end to 
the Assyrian empire. The mountainous regions became part of a short-lived Median 
kingdom, while the Neo-Babylonian kings (ca. 626-539 B.C.E.) were able to rule 
over much of the former Assyrian realm. Babylon again became a political and cul- 
tural center (Beaulieu 1995), and its most famous king, Nebuchadnezzar II, was 


responsible for such prominent buildings as the tower of Babel, a ziggurat (Schmid 
1995). The end of the empire is shrouded in mystery. The last king Nabonidus, 
known also for his interest in the Mesopotamian past and his excavations of earlier 
temples, withdrew to the desert oasis of Teima, presumably for religious reasons. 
This gave the increasingly powerful Achaemenid king Cyrus II from the Iranian 
highlands the occasion to defeat the powerholder in Babylon, Nabonidus's son 
Belsazar (Beaulieu 1989). 

Cyrus II was the founder of the vast Achaemenid ("Persian") empire (559-331 
B.C.E.) that reached from western Anatolia to the Indus Valley in today's Pakistan. 
Larger than any earlier empire, it was plagued by frequent revolts, often several at 
a time in widely separate parts of the empire (Briant 1999). This necessitated 
military and administrative decentralization. The territory was divided into satrapies 
(extensive provinces), each of which was subdivided into smaller units (Wiesehofer 
1996:60-61). The rulers of a satrapy were normally from the royal family. Other 
unifying measures were the institutionalization of an administrative language, 
Aramaic, a single system of measurements, an empire-wide currency (Frye 
1984:129-130), and the enlargement of the Assyrian network of royal highways 
(Nissen 1998:118). 

Susa, Persepolis, Babylon, and Ekbatana were Achaemenid capitals (Briant 
1988). Susa and Persepolis were the preferred cities, as evidenced in the layout and 
architecture of their vast palace complexes. Stone reliefs at Persepolis exhibit par- 
allels to Assyrian precursors, such as mythical lamassu, genii guarding the entrances 
(cf. Panaino 2000). And while power over the periphery was still depicted in 
orthostats, it was represented through formalized scenes of tribute-giving by all 20 
satrapies, rather than torture and violence, all the while keeping to the highly nor- 
mative renderings of foreigners' clothing and hair styles typical of Assyrian imagery 
(Walser 1966; Root 1979; Roaf 1983). The focus on scenes of political economy 
rather than military character underscores Achaemenid preference for discipline 
and order as a means to rule, rather than sheer force. 

Much of our knowledge about Achaemenid warfare and its failures at Marathon 
and Salamis is derived from well-known Greek sources, particularly Herodotus (cf. 
Hogemann 1993). While Eurocentric historians have for the longest time blindly 
believed in the exactitude of accounts of heroic, victorious Greeks against the huge 
Persian army, recent assessments have cast serious doubt on both the rendering of 
the events as well as their importance to the Achaemenid empire (Young 1980; 
Wiesehofer 1996:51-52). Long after these battles, the Achaemenid empire fell prey 
to Alexander III ("the Great"). Alexander's conglomeration of politically highly vari- 
able conquests (the Achaemenid realm, Macedonia, the Greek peninsula) disinte- 
grated immediately after his death in 323 B.C.E. Much of the ancient Near East 
became part of the Seleucid empire (ca. 310-63 B.C.E.). The Levant was tem- 
porarily part of the Ptolemaic empire, centered on Egypt. Anatolia was the scene 
of various small polities (Armenia, Bithynia, Pontos) . 

The period following Alexander's conquests is still interpreted in standard liter- 
ature as a "Hellenization" of the Orient. However, Alexander himself underwent an 
Orientalization during his short reign, in mundane elements such as clothing as 


well as in administrative policies (satrapies as provincial units, Greek and Aramaic 
as official languages of the bureaucracy; Frye 1984:142-143; Hauser 1995). The 
dominant idea of a deep-reaching Hellenization of the Near East is due to ethno- 
centric representations by ancient authors, the colonization policy of the Seleucid 
emperors, and present archaeologists' and historians' preconceptions (cf. Sherwin- 
White and Kuhrt 1993). And while the Seleucids founded major cities and gave 
them the prerogatives of poleis, settled them with immigrants from Macedonia and 
Greece, and furnished them with their traditional institutions (theater, agora, 
gymnasium), these did not bring a Greek culture of "democracy." As noted by one 
prominent historian, "to invent the free citizen was at the same time to invent the 
slave" (Vernant 2000: 174). The focus on the archaeological identification of Greek 
foundations, from Anatolia to Afghanistan, has led to the neglect of contemporary 
non-Greek cities and the countryside that pervaded the interstices of this Greek 
network. 1 The few indications available about provincial conditions suggest that, 
contrary to traditional views, Seleucid power may have been relatively successful 
because of the loose ("federal") administrative structure, rather than the presence 
of Macedonian military garrisons (Wiesehofer 1996:109). 

The end of Seleucid power is attributed to the rise of Parthia in the east (ca. 270 
B.C.E.-C.E. 227) and Rome in the west. In the second half of the second century 
B.C.E., the Parthian dynasty established itself as a political counterweight against 
Rome. The territory reached from Afghanistan to the upper Euphrates which was 
the border with Rome. Despite a dynasty that is one of the longest-lasting of the 
Near East, Parthian history is marginalized in Near Eastern historiography because 
written sources are scarce, and much of what we know is derived from the adver- 
sarial information of Roman authors (Ball 2000:12-13). During the Parthian reign, 
a shift is perceptible in Mesopotamia from Philhellenism to ideological recourse to 
the Achaemenids as political ancestors (Schippmann 1980:75-76). This may be 
reflected in the establishment of Ctesiphon, which was first a suburb of Seleucia 
on the Tigris, as capital. This move was apparently meant to draw inhabitants from 
the Greek polls to a newly founded, more "Iranian" city (Frye 1984:227). 

Both the Parthian empire and the Roman client states at its western border prof- 
ited from Rome's desires for spices, perfumes, silk, and other products from the Far 
East. The Silk Road's western starting points were such famously rich cities as 
Hatra, Palmyra, and (the recently irrevocably perished) Zeugma on the Euphrates 
(Wiesehofer 1996:147; Kennedy 1998). While trade and urban life may have pros- 
pered, surveys indicate that agriculture was neglected and nomadism was on the 
rise (Adams and Nissen 1972:57; Bernbeck 1996:406-407). 

Contemporary with the rise of the Parthian empire, the Levant was turned into 
a series of small client states of Rome. Judaea is the most famous among them, as 
a result of the detailed description of it from Flavius Josephus's account of the 
"Jewish War" (Smallwood 1976; Bernbeck, this volume), the stunning finds of 
religious texts at Qumran (Davies et al. 2002; Zangenberg 2003), and the intense 
long-lasting interest in Christian New Testament history that led to the early estab- 
lishment of an archaeology of Palestine (Yahya, this volume). Most of the Roman 
client kingdoms had a double structure of Romanized cities, castles, and religious 


institutions that existed side-by-side with traditional villages, towns with local 
culture and temples for native deities (Safrai 1994). In Judaea, Herod "the Great" 
built major fortresses, among them the Masada, that are a mixture of Roman ele- 
ments (baths with caldarium and tepidarium) and non-figural wall decoration and 
mosaics, in accordance with Jewish proscriptions (Lehmann 2003). In other king- 
doms, deities such as the main Nabataean god Dushara were depicted either in 
their traditional form as a stone cube or as a personified image in the Graeco- 
Roman tradition (Ball 2000:46-47). 

While we do not know much about the lower classes of other Roman client 
kingdoms, we are extremely well informed about Judaea. In the first century C.E., 
numerous messiahs emerged and incited revolts against the foreign occupation. Not 
only did these mostly peasant figures preach resistance against occupation forces, 
they also condemned urban Jewish collaborators. Crucifixion was the elite's answer 
to such threat, spurring more resistance (Hanson and Oakman 1998:86-95). Two 
major revolts in C.E. 70 and 135 led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 
Jerusalem and, finally, the complete Romanization of the city and a ban on access 
for all Jews (Isaac 1992). 

Regions east of Judaea never became semi-independent client polities. They were 
too near to Rome's border with the powerful Parthian enemy and the unruly Arab 
tribes and were therefore directly controlled. Well known are the centers of the 
Dekapolis, a league of ten cities, including Gerasa and Gadara east of the Jordan 
River. Most of these cities already had a Hellenistic tradition and their western char- 
acter became even more emphasized with Roman rule (Ball 2000:181-197). The 
importance of these frontier cities and of the limes arabicus on the eastern edge 
of the Roman empire were emphasized with the death of the last Parthian king in 
224 C.E. and the expansion of the Sasanian empire (226-651 C.E.) towards the 

First and Second Millennia C.E. 

The Sasanian dynasty inherited much of the Parthian territory. In the East, it bor- 
dered the Kushana kingdom in today's eastern Afghanistan until its inclusion in the 
Sasanian empire in the mid-third century. The most important western neighbor 
was Rome and later the Byzantine realm. Armenia and other Anatolian regions were 
a bone of contention between Sasanians and Romans, with both sides attempting 
to keep the borderland under their influence. In the course of wars in the Sasan- 
ian west in the third century, the Romans repeatedly suffered devastating defeats 
(Schippmann 1990:19-24), and Shahpur I even captured the Roman emperor 
Valerian in C.E. 260 (Whitby 1994). On the same occasion, tens of thousands of 
Roman POWs were deported and settled in newly founded cities, among them 
Jundishahpur in the Susiana plain and Bishapur in the southern Zagros mountains. 
Jundishahpur soon became one of the foremost academic centers of late antiquity, 
attracting Greek philosophers who had become homeless after Justinian's closure 
of Plato's academy in Athens (cf. Potts 1989). 


Sasanian kings, even more than the Parthians, saw themselves as heirs of the 
Achaemenid dynasty. They traced their origin back to the region of Persepolis, and 
reliefs were carved into the rock face below the facades of Achaemenid royal burials 
in the vicinity (Wiesehofer 1996: 155). In other places as well, royal Sasanian reliefs 
and inscriptions were positioned in relation to Achaemenid landscape features 
(Bernbeck 2003). The Sasanians are known for palace architecture that influenced 
later Islamic building traditions, with monumental domes over square rooms as well 
as the iwan, a room with walls on three sides and a barrel-vault (Schippmann 

Knowledge about living conditions of the lower classes in Sasanian times is 
limited. As for so many other periods, archaeological interest has so far concen- 
trated on elites and large sites, palaces, and temples rather than the living quarters 
and villages (e.g. Simpson 2003). Surveys suggest rural-urban migrations (Wenke 
1987:256), but also major administrative efforts to construct large-scale irrigation 
networks all over Mesopotamia and the Susiana Plain. It is unclear whether a failure 
in upkeep led to their ruin and concurrent decline of population, or whether the 
construction of the systems themselves are at the root of ecological problems 
(Adams 1981:205). 

Religion played a major role both internally and in relation to the emerging 
Byzantine empire. Zoroastrianism became the Sasanian state religion under the 
high priest Kartir. Mani, the third century C.E. founder of Manichaeism, a syn- 
cretistic religion with elements of Zoroastrianism, Chaldaean beliefs, Judaism, early 
Christianity, and Gnosticism, was killed at the instigation of the magi (Zoroastrian 
priests; cf. Sundermann 1986:253-268). Manichaeism had spread quickly over a 
vast area reaching from Spain to China. Syncretistic religions attest to intense inter- 
changes in spiritual matters; eastern ideas, for example, became highly influential 
for the development of Christian theology. The concept of a god as "pure" and 
"good," for example, has its origins in Zoroastrianism (Ball 2000:435). 

From the early fourth century C.E. onwards, the Roman empire was divided 
administratively into an eastern and a western part, with Constantinople (Istanbul) 
as the eastern capital. This city became the core of the Byzantine empire 
(C.E. 610-1204) whose Near Eastern possessions included Anatolia and the 
Levant. The former Provincia Palaestina turned into a favored region in the fourth 
century, with financial resources flowing to the area because of its importance as 
the origin of Christianity, the official religion of the Byzantine state. In many places 
thought to have biblical significance, churches were built, most prominently the 
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Silberman 1995:11). Contemporary 
synagogues have also been discovered, especially in Galilee and the Golan (Hachlili 

Based on a combination of historical data and survey evidence, the Levant and 
northern Mesopotamia seem to have witnessed an unprecedented economic boom 
and demographic growth during Byzantine times (e.g. Broshi 1979). This may, 
however, be due to mis-dating of ceramics, since much of the standard "Byzantine" 
ceramic material continues in use in the following early Islamic times (Whitcomb 
1995:493-494). Thus, the stark contrast between dense settlements with terraced 


fields and olive production in Byzantine times and a largely uninhabited early 
Islamic landscape is overdrawn (but see Wilkinson 2003:171-172). 

C.E. 622, the year of the prophet Mohammed's hijrah to Medina, marks the 
beginning of the Islamic calendar and has been a convenient starting date for what 
archaeologists often call the "Islamic period." However, this notion of a radical 
historical-cultural divide, underscored by the swift conquest of Mesopotamia, 
Sasanian Iran, Syria, and North Africa, has produced an ill-conceived historiogra- 
phy that puts the archaeology of the succeeding periods on the wrong track. The 
concept of an "Islamic archaeology" is replete with orientalist preconceptions: a 
period of more than 1,300 years is glossed over, although both written and archae- 
ological data are much richer than for earlier periods. Moreover, much of what 
counts as "Islamic archaeology" is merely an art history (e.g. Schick 1998) that 
aims to create a space-time systematics at the level of specific rulers, rather than 
contributing to anthropological-historical knowledge of social development (Insoll 

Recently, however, change is apparent in excavation and survey projects with 
interests in the archaeology of "Early Islam." Most archaeologists would include 
under this term the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties (C.E. 638-mid-13th century). 
This period is of long-standing interest for its urban planning and architecture. The 
earliest and most famous major public building from this period is the Dome of the 
Rock in Jerusalem (Grabar 1990). The foundation of new cities in the vicinity of 
older ones gave planners the opportunity of imposing an artificial urban layout. Such 
new cities are characterized by some elements already known from late antiquity, 
above all the two main thoroughfares crossing at a right angle in a settlement's center. 
Elements of Sasanian origin also provide continuity, for example the decoration of 
palaces and "castles" with stucco (Kroger 1982:22). On the other hand, the lack of 
theaters, the mosques with their specific plans and installations, caravanserais, and 
bazaars give these towns their own cultural characteristics. Archaeologists have var- 
iously focused on continuity with earlier periods (Meinecke 1996:141) and the inno- 
vative potential of the Arab conquerors (Whitcomb 1995:491-492). 

We do not know much about daily life in the Early Islamic period. The wide 
range of analytical archaeological methods, such as faunal and paleobotanical analy- 
sis, absolute dating techniques, and spatial analysis of artifacts, are rarely consid- 
ered worthwhile applying to Islamic remains (but see King and Cameron 1994; 
Yahya, this volume). Regional research on early Islamic settlement often leads to 
highly contradictory results. Areas with relatively well known ceramics display a 
demographic increase in the Early Islamic period (Bartl 1994), whereas neighbor- 
ing regions are often interpreted as almost deserted, most likely because oriental- 
ist assumptions impinge on the wrong chronological assignment of sherds. 

In the Levant, the Crusader period marks a brief interlude (C.E. 1097-1291) 
that has repercussions up to today. The Crusader polities in the Levant have tradi- 
tionally been interpreted as well-integrated kingdoms in which gradually oriental- 
izing Franks and the local population lived peacefully side by side. This older view 
has been replaced by one that sees the European invaders as a population restricted 
to their easily defensible castles and monumental monasteries, with practically no 


communication with the surrounding villagers (Smail 1995; Gabrieli 1973). More 
recent research indicates that crusaders had access to undefended hamlets 
and manors, but that such contact was largely restricted to Christian localities 
(Ellenblum 1995:508-509). 

Highly visible, forbiddingly militant-looking castles dot the landscape of the 
Levant and provide present inhabitants with a constant reminder of a past foreign 
occupation and clash of religions. Because of obvious analogies to the present, these 
archaeological remains need to be treated carefully, and any positive reference to 
the Crusader period in modern political or other contexts is insensitive and likely 
to engender further conflict (Scham 2002:26-27). 

Disputed reasons for the first Crusade include the search for an outlet for over- 
population and rampant poverty in Europe, as well as the conquest of Jerusalem 
by the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe that had converted to Islam. This dynasty, which 
ruled over Mesopotamia and Anatolia, was followed by others with origins further 
east in Mongolia. The Mongolian conquests wrought havoc on the ancient irriga- 
tion systems in Mesopotamia and seriously reduced the region's population (Adams 
1981:225-228). However, no similarly in-depth evidence is available from other 
regions. The political situation stabilized with the Ottoman dynasty (C.E. 
1300-1923) that ruled over Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia. Iran was for 
much of this period governed by the Safavid dynasty. A theoretically informed 
archaeology with a socio-economic focus is not yet available for these periods, 
although a recent volume on Ottoman archaeology makes a fundamental step in 
that direction (Baram and Carroll 2000). 

This chapter cannot end without a suggestion. Even the most recent past should 
not escape the critical eyes of archaeological scrutiny. From the early 20th century 
on, the Middle East has been subject to numerous wars, mass murder, and exter- 
nal political and economic pressures. These events are historically well known. 
However, archaeologists have generally avoided investigating their impacts on local 
populations, even though they may have more sophisticated means to do so than 
anyone else. 


1 There are probably many small settlements excavated which remain largely unpublished 
because such sites are mostly excavated with other goals in mind (for a recent exception 
see Parr 2003:251-276). 


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Part I 

Producing and 
Disseminating Knowledge 
About the Ancient 
Near East 

Reinhard Bernbeck 
and Susan Pollock 

This set of four papers addresses a series of fundamental issues in Near Eastern 
archaeology. They include the variability of archaeological products, the multiple 
ways in which such products are created, the relationships between past and 
present, and the wider context in which archaeological praxis takes place. 

There is no unified concept of or agreement on what the prototypical product of 
archaeological work is. None of the authors in this section denies the importance 
of the most obvious: material objects, such as artifacts, installations, and remnants 
of buildings. Material remains take on highly politicized meanings when exhibited in 
Western museums as a show of imperial power (Steele) . Their value can also reside 
in capitalist profiteering (Pollock) or in subsistence acquired through looting (Yahya) . 

Archaeological products are not, however, limited to objects. Archaeologists 
spend a lot of time analyzing and presenting results of their work to a professional 
audience, that is, producing "knowledge" about the Near Eastern past. Of course, 
this process is fraught with problems related to the ideological, social, and political 
positioning of authors, and also of those people who "consume" or rework archae- 
ological products (Bernbeck, Pollock). Our narratives are disputed within the dis- 
cipline, but they also stand in a dialectical relation to other, non-archaeological 
accounts. Acknowledgment of this situation leads to critique of non-archaeologists' 
interpretations of our findings as well as a willingness to learn from them. 

A third kind of archaeological product discussed in the following chapters is iden- 
tity. The authors are mostly concerned with identity in the present, with only one 
case oriented towards the past (Bernbeck). Strong connections are drawn between 
archaeological remains as elements of group identity and human rights issues 
(Steele); in a similar vein, the past has an immense import for territorial disputes 
among groups, where political claims are often directly derived from contested 
archaeological interpretations (Yahya, Finkelstein). However, Pollock cautions that 


archaeological knowledge serves as only one of many elements in the construction 
of present identities, and we should not overestimate its influence. 

The creation of archaeological products is a complex and multifarious process. 
Archaeologists oscillate between a naive belief in "objective data," the attempt to 
be explicit about the predispositions which influence their work, and unintentional 
manipulation of interpretations. One way in which the Near Eastern past was and 
continues to be manipulated is through the dissection of continuous phenomena 
into clear-cut entities. This can be observed in museums (Steele), in the construc- 
tion of historical narratives (Bernbeck), and in a wider media discourse on ar- 
chaeology (Pollock). These manipulations may often remain enshrined in the 
unrecognized circumstances of one's lifeworld and thus below the surface of dis- 
cursive consciousness, whether of archaeologists or those who use their results. 
What the authors highlight is the need for research that uncovers problems of cat- 
egorization in Near Eastern archaeology, whether in the field (cf. Gero 1996; 
Hodder 1999), during analysis, or in synthetic writing. Reflections in Near Eastern 
archaeology along the lines of Foucault's (1972) early work on history would be 
valuable contributions. 

Silencing (Trouillot 1995) is an even more problematic part of the archaeolog- 
ical production process. The omission of certain sources in the representation of a 
past is always necessarily accompanied by emphasizing others (Ben- Yehuda 1995). 
Yahya describes silencing as a praxis in field archaeology from the level of project 
planning to conservation, and also in looting, where certain periods are excluded, 
destroyed, or neglected, depending on the political-ideological authority under 
which such activities take place. Interestingly, he advocates a more objective - less 
politicized - approach to archaeology than many of his Western colleagues. His 
description of a non-exclusive archaeology is of fundamental importance to any 
praxis in conflict-ridden - and other! - regions. Bernbeck discusses silencing as an 
unavoidable element of standard narrative production and suggests that archaeo- 
logical texts need to be written in new and different ways. Narrating from multiple 
points of view avoids the silencing that comes with the single perspective of tradi- 
tional academic writing. 

A third theme that pervades all of the papers is the relationship between past 
and present. The authors take - to different degrees - a constructivist position, 
arguing that the ancient Near East is always seen from a particular viewpoint in the 
present. Crucial to renderings of the ancient Near East are concepts of time. Pollock 
shows how different anachronisms create a sense of distance or nearness to the 
past, depending on the desired interpretation. Entire time periods may even be 
blocked out of memory in the service of political domination (Steele, Yahya). On a 
comparative level, the intensity and chronological depth of whole research tra- 
ditions can be an important factor in unequal potentialities for the creation of 
identities. The most blatant case in Near Eastern archaeology is disinterest in and 
neglect of Islamic periods. An additional layer of complexity is added if one con- 
siders that any narrative about the ancient Near East should take into considera- 
tion temporal conceptions of the past people one wants to speak about (Bernbeck, 
Charvat) . 


Another thread that runs through these contributions is the malleability of the 
ancient Near East for the present interpreter. Pollock's discussion of Gulf Wars I 
and II reveals how much archaeological interpretations are at the whim of non- 
specialists' readings, as does Bernbeck's account of novels whose writers construct 
the past either as a foil for the present or as an exotic other. Is there or should there 
be a limit to such multivocality? On the level of fieldwork, both Yahya and Steele 
strongly advocate a remedial praxis of close collaboration with local communities, 
identifying and retooling research in accordance with local needs and interests. 
Steele also warns against politically blind cooperation with governmental authori- 
ties in cases where archaeological research contributes to social problems, as in 
dam-building schemes. Her proposal to change from a representation of "what was 
saved" to "what was lost" has deep political implications that go well beyond a 
simple semantic adjustment. 

Archaeologists have little power over the appropriation of their products by a 
wider public, especially by people who rework the results in their own ways. As long 
as archaeologists are unable themselves to capture the imagination of a larger 
public, they will be dependent on mediators such as journalists, filmmakers, or nov- 
elists to do so (Pollock, Bernbeck). Archaeology in the present world is firmly 
anchored in specialization and divisions of labor (Shanks and McGuire 1996). Why, 
however, should we leave to non-specialists the task of making our interpretations 
more widely accessible? Is the gulf between archaeology as professional praxis and 
a wider public so wide that it can only be bridged by simplifiers and producers of 
fiction? And if so, is there a need to limit somehow the potential damage that results 
from simplifying and thus misrepresenting our work? The discussions here suggest 
several responses. It is essential to analyze how our research is presented to a larger 
world by others, especially journalists and reporters (Pollock). In the process, we 
may be able to learn from non-archaeological ways of representation (Bernbeck) . 
A greater focus on our own styles of writing is desirable: good writing (under- 
standable, with a minimum of jargon, and still in accordance with the complexities 
of a subject) is not part of archaeological education. Creativity is underestimated, 
and the dry or esoteric languages of academia cut us off from the public. We are 
getting used to multiple ways of representing our work, so why not make the effort 
to contribute to narratives that reach out to a larger public? 

While these papers address many problems inherent in the current praxis of field- 
work as well as accounts of the results, two important issues remain unresolved. 
On the level of production of "knowledge" and its representation, the focus on 
textual forms barely touches on the burgeoning field of electronic media, with its 
nearly limitless capacity for pictorial illustrations and non-linear forms of repre- 
sentation. The attendant problem of reversal of the relationship between material 
culture and its representations - where simulation takes precedence over reality - 
needs more attention. 

Historically and politically more pressing is the fundamentally colonialist and 
paternalistic nature of Near Eastern archaeology. At the most basic level, even com- 
munity projects that are financed and (co-)directed by Western archaeologists do 
not eschew this very basic power differential. Would a Near Eastern archaeology 


entirely in the hands of archaeologists from the Middle East provide the solution? 
We do not think so, at least not as long as the practitioners are educated princi- 
pally in Western institutions. Such a "subaltern archaeology" would risk veiling the 
continuation of the old colonial enterprise of searching for the roots of Western civ- 
ilization in the ancient Near East, but with different personnel conducting the task. 
Can a process of globalizing archaeological interpretation offer a solution? Hodder 
(1999, 2002) argues that the availability of data on the internet widens access to 
archaeological knowledge and allows participation not only of archaeologists from 
all venues, but of multiple external interest groups, thus reducing the effects of past 
colonialist praxis. His insistence that all such interest groups, from the local com- 
munity to metropolitan artists, be treated equally is well taken but nevertheless 
overly idealistic, since economic limitations to access (whether educational and lin- 
guistic background, available time, or travel resources) are neglected. 

Even in a globalizing world, location still matters. One of the most striking 
aspects of the praxis of Near Eastern archaeology is that no one expects Middle 
Eastern archaeologists to work outside their own country or region, whereas 
Western archaeologists consider it a matter of course to conduct research anywhere 
in the world. This long-standing colonialist, economic, and political imbalance 
could be resolved if archaeologists who want to work in the Middle East had to 
find a counterpart, someone who would do a field project in their own country. The 
resulting mix of interests, with field projects in the U.S. or Sweden run by profes- 
sionals from Turkey, Jordan, or Iran would undoubtedly provide surprising new 
insights into the archaeology of those countries. This would entail much wider polit- 
ical and economic consequences, such as better provisioning Middle Eastern uni- 
versities with the means for research, including everything from books to financial 
support. After 150 years of archaeological exploitation of the ancient Near East by 
Western countries, it is time to come to terms with past, and continuing, injustice. 


Ben- Yehuda, Nachman, 1995 The Masada Myth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 

Foucault, Michel, 1972 The Archaeology of Knowledge. A. M. Sheridan Smith, trans. 
London: Tavistock. 

Gero, Joan, 1996 Archaeological Practice and Gendered Encounters with Field Data. In 
Gender and Archaeology. Rita Wright, ed. pp. 251-280. Philadelphia: University of 
Pennsylvania Press. 

Hodder, Ian, 1999 The Archaeological Process. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Hodder, Ian, 2002 Ethics and Archaeology: the Attempt at Catalhoyuk. Near Eastern 
Archaeology 65:174-181. 

Shanks, Michael, and Randall McGuire, 1996 The Craft of Archaeology. American An- 
tiquity 61:75-88. 

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, 1995 Silencing the Past. Boston: Beacon Press. 

Who Has Not Eaten 
Cherries with the Devil? 
Archaeology under 

Caroline Steele 

For over 200 years people from the West have viewed the Middle East as a rich 
resource for the materials of antiquity from which they could obtain personal pres- 
tige, national glory, and historical antecedents. The results of their work contributed 
to the construction of a timeline of historical heritage that goes beyond Rome and 
Greece to the Biblical and earlier societies that rocked in the Cradle of Civilization. 
Though the methods of archaeological endeavors have been improved, and 
thoughts and views have been systematized into a profession whose members may 
hesitate to take simplistic linear views of the past, there remain distinct continuities 
of praxis between archaeology of the 19th century and that of the present. Diffi- 
culties in obtaining funding and the stipulations and obligations that accompany it, 
interactions between archaeologists and the inhabitants living near or on archaeo- 
logical sites, and relations with local and national governments remain to this day 
problematic and challenging elements in the pursuit of Middle Eastern archaeol- 
ogy. Archaeologists continue to be identified as experts who discover buildings and 
objects from the past that provide legitimate information for the production - by 
themselves and others - of history(s) that can be used for political and social ends. 
Although the themes and particulars change, the practice of archaeology has always 
been and remains firmly embedded in wider social and political contexts. 

While challenges occasioned by archaeology's connections to contemporary 
political and social issues are not recent developments, there is a marked increase 
in published discussion of them in the past two decades (e.g., Trigger 1989; Pollock 
and Lutz 1994; Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Meskell 1998). Reflections on archae- 
ological praxis arise when the motives and actions of people, states, and institutions 
are open to question and interpretation, especially by those who are not included 
or do not participate in the dominant paradigms. I begin my reflections on archae- 
ological praxis with a bit of historical perspective, pointing out some of the ethical 
issues that have long confronted archaeologists working in the Middle East. I then 
examine several specific examples of contemporary challenges facing archaeologists 


working in the Middle East that have not been the subject of sustained (published) 
reflection or debate. Finally, I draw out a series of general issues that have arisen 
in these and related social and political contexts, particularly the rise of globaliza- 
tion and the human rights movement, and consider the discipline's relationship to 

I base my discussion on my experiences and conversations of the past 20 years 
during which I have worked in various Middle Eastern countries on British and 
American excavations, funded by both government and private agencies. I partici- 
pated in excavations in Iraq during five years in the 1980s at the time of the 
Iran-Iraq War. After the Gulf War, I began working in Turkey where I was involved 
in a five-year dam rescue excavation and several years of site survey work. My other 
Middle Eastern experience includes working at the British Institute of Archaeology 
in Ankara and two seasons of excavation in Syria. 

The following discussion cannot be a comprehensive review, nor can I offer clear- 
cut solutions. However, I do hope by pointing out the persistence of some issues 
and the emergence of others that pertinent problems in archaeological praxis will 
be illuminated and reflection on them encouraged. 

Continuities and Legacies of Archaeological Praxis 

When Austin Layard began excavations at Nimrud in 1845, his initial funding came 
from Sir Stratford Canning, who was gambling that the site would prove "fruitful" 
and thus further his political ambitions by associating him with the discovery of 
magnificent antiquities. The link between Canning's political ambitions and antiq- 
uities was the nascent British Museum. The acquisition of fabulous ancient objects 
would fulfill the British goal of filling the national museum with the "most presti- 
gious and glorious accumulation of art from the entire history of mankind" (Larsen 
1996:68). In addition, the acquisitions would keep the British competitive with the 
French who were busily backing excavations at Khorsabad to supply Assyrian an- 
tiquities for the Louvre. When Layard established that Nimrud was indeed a site 
with important potential - with a significant quantity of items defined as suitable 
for British Museum display - work was postponed while he waited for official per- 
mission to arrive from the Ottoman court and further funding from the British 
Museum. Finally, when he thought all was in order, he discovered that the British 
government had failed to allocate any funds to the British Museum for the con- 
tinuation of his work (Larsen 1996:100). 

Layard's travails in excavating Nimrud, which did not end once the financial 
backing from the British Museum came through, have a certain resonance today. 
Archaeologists are still dependent for funding on public, private, or both types of 
organizations. These resources all operate within larger contexts than that of the 
immediate archaeological research needs of applicants. Thus support of archae- 
ological research continues to be contingent on personal, political, and economic 
factors (these factors are not just specific to the West). Pertinent considerations can 
be the applicants' previous success in receiving grants, their academic position, 


whether their research design addresses current hot academic topics or national 
political agendas and whether a site has "potential." Decisions as to whether a 
project will provide economic advantage through enhancing tourism or will fulfill 
legal prerequisites for construction projects can also be part of funding considera- 
tions. For archaeologists, acquiring funding can, or should, include questions about 
whether to accept money from individuals and institutions known to have collec- 
tions that include stolen antiquities (Wilkie 2000:10), or whether to apply for 
funding or accept employment from institutions responsible for development pro- 
jects (e.g., UNESCO), the policies of which are suspect in terms of whom they 

Museums and Colonialism 

Layard's tribulations also illuminate another awkward issue: the relationship 
between museums and archaeology. The relationship continues to be an ambiva- 
lent one revolving around the acquisition and curation of archaeological material 
(Brodie andTubb 2002; Barker 2003). While it is no longer usual for museums to 
sponsor archaeological expeditions to other countries with the goal of obtaining 
items to fill their own display cases, as was once done by large institutions such as 
the British Museum or the Louvre, museums continue to fund overseas expeditions 
in order to enhance their reputations. They continue to be the major repositories 
for excavated materials and also to have a role in national agendas, parts of which 
include the prestige of having the biggest, most extensive, most exotic, and most 
valuable collections of objects. These collections are considered national treasures 
of the holding country rather than the country of origin. Few of the prominent 
national and private museums are prepared to return donated plunder or objects 
obtained by archaeologists in the 1 9th century to the nations where the items orig- 
inated (Greenfield 1996; Robertson 2002:157-158). To justify their continued 
possession of such materials when their return is requested, museums attempt to 
legitimate their position by claiming a legal right to the material by citing their com- 
pliance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit 
Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. However, the con- 
vention conveniently restricts the return of cultural property to materials proven to 
be stolen from public museums or monuments in the country of origin. Even more 
importantly, this convention, and the more recent Unidroit Convention (1995) con- 
cerning theft, are not retroactive, and only enter into effect the day of official rati- 
fication by a particular national signatory. 

The trade in stolen and illicitly excavated antiquities is an ongoing crisis for 
archaeology, causing the destruction of archaeological contexts and information 
(Renfrew 2000; Brodie andTubb 2002). While making an apparent show of concern 
with regards to stolen antiquities, museums are only dealing with combating future 
illicit "property" and denying any responsibility about artifacts they obtained before 
treaty ratification. Museums, being among the major holders of items of dubious 
provenance, lend a legitimizing weight to other collectors who acquire objects of 


doubtful origin. Archaeologists who work for and with museums can be seen as 
representing the museum's interests rather than those of the peoples and countries 
from which objects have come and where the archaeologists work. 

There have, of course, been some changes in the roles of museums and the acqui- 
sition of archaeological objects since the 19th century. One significant change is 
that now Middle Eastern museums are the repositories for most of the archaeo- 
logical objects that are legally excavated within their countries. In addition, Middle 
Eastern museums and antiquities departments control work through granting of 
permissions to excavate and conduct museum-based research. The earlier losses 
of archaeological material to foreign countries often occurred under permission- 
granting agencies headed by directors who were citizens of former colonial powers, 
for example, Gertrude Bell in Iraq and Henri Seyrig in Syria. In other instances, 
there was no antiquity regulatory agency at all but rather a monopoly for all exca- 
vations was given to a particular country, as was the case with the French in 
Afghanistan. Regulation of excavation by government authorization was born out 
of the realization of national power by former colonial or weak governments, such 
as the late Ottoman Empire, and was able to rectify archaeologists' previous prac- 
tice of taking much of the excavated material back to their own countries. 

Western projects that are permitted to work are funded and directed by West- 
erners, and the funding, both up front as well as institutional support services, is 
usually more generous than Middle Eastern countries can afford for their own pro- 
jects. In that inequity, the structures of colonialism continue. And although today 
the artifacts remain in the country of origin, final site reports and attendant infor- 
mation are seldom published in the host country's language. Reports published by 
local archaeologists in Turkish or Arabic are seldom read by Westerners, most of 
whom do not have a reading knowledge of these languages (a notable solution to 
this problem are reports on the Carchemish and Ihsu dam salvage projects, which 
are published bilingually [Tuna and Oztiirk 1999; Tuna et al. 2001; Tuna and 
Velibeyoglu 2002]). Thus, the majority of archaeological information continues to 
be located in the West and not in the country in which the sites lie. Potential solu- 
tions to the continuing inequities could be Western financial and technical support 
to build museums and an archaeological infrastructure in Middle Eastern coun- 
tries. Permanent loans of material to Western institutions would open up the pos- 
sibilities for widening Western understanding, and the publication of Western 
excavation reports by Middle Eastern publishers in local languages would do the 
same for the Middle East. 

Self-reflection in Archaeology 

While archaeologists over the decades may have reflected on some of these issues, 
little of their thinking on these subjects has appeared in print until relatively recently 
(e.g., Trigger 1989; Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Shaw 2003). To date, much of the pub- 
lished discussion has centered on the relationship between archaeology and nation- 


alism (Layton 1989; Makiya 1989; Sherman 1989; Diaz-Andreu and Champion 
1996; Arnold 2002). Archaeological information is particularly susceptible to the 
designs of nationalist ideologies since it can be used to build national solidarity by 
constructing a common past. A particular past can also be used to justify present 
practices: for example, a lynchpin of the ideology of apartheid was that white 
settlers and Bantus spread inland from the Cape of Good Hope at the same time, 
implying that their claims of nationhood were chronologically the same (Hall 
1999:64). One of the early and often cited works on nationalism and archaeology 
is Kohl and Fawcett's 1995 edited volume, but as the editors noted in the intro- 
duction there were no contributions from scholars who worked in the Middle East. 
This lack of representation was rectified in 1998 with the publication of Meskell's 
edited book. The main topic of concern in this literature is how the results of ar- 
chaeological fieldwork have been or can be used as an instrument of oppression, 
justification, and aggrandizement by nationalist ideologues and governments. Some 
attention has also been directed to instances of archaeology used to openly con- 
struct new identities, such as Dietler's (1994) discussion of the use of the Gauls to 
fashion a Celtic identity for a unified Europe. Another topic that is beginning to be 
considered concerns the archaeologies of disenfranchised peoples and groups. They 
are usually thought inappropriate for "serious" scholarly consideration and funding 
and are consequently denied legitimacy and voice in Middle Eastern archaeology 
(Scham 2001). 

The growth of reflection on ethics and the continuing role of archaeology in 
nationalist strategies and human rights are seen in issues of World Archaeology and 
in the introduction of new journals, Journal of Social Archaeology and Public Archae- 
ology. Unfortunately, most prominent archaeological journals fail to address ques- 
tions and topics directly related to the politics of archaeology. Many archaeologists 
working in the Middle East continue to maintain implicitly that they are solely cul- 
tural historians and as such are apolitical. The expression of this belief became par- 
ticularly clear in the aftermath of the looting of the Iraq Museum and sites in Iraq. 
Humanitarian and political concerns were treated by some archaeologists as sec- 
ondary to archaeological concerns, using rationalizing masks such as "loss of uni- 
versal heritage." However, the critical work that has been done clearly demonstrates 
that archaeology is almost by necessity put to uses and abuses beyond value-free 
scholasticism. Archaeologists must be conscious of these issues and accept the 
necessity and responsibility of political engagement. 

The growth of critical awareness about the many uses of archaeology combats 
its image as "an esoteric discipline that has no relevance for the needs or concerns 
of the present" (Trigger 1989:3), and clearly illuminates the need for continued 
critical consciousness of how it can be exploited by others as well as by archaeol- 
ogists themselves (Ben-Yehuda 2002) . I turn now to three examples of issues facing 
archaeologists who work at present in the Middle East. Each represents a case where 
most, if not all, of us succumb to "eating cherries with the devil." I consider the 
problematic elements of each example as well as alternatives that some archaeol- 
ogists have chosen or might choose to explore. 


For instance: asymmetric relations 

Interpersonal relationships on excavations are almost always asymmetric. Practi- 
cally all excavations in the Middle East employ local villagers as laborers, and they 
all have a representative from the national antiquities organization. They may also 
include students from various countries including the host country. In the upper 
portion of an excavation project's hierarchy a variety of interests is represented: the 
director, usually an academic; the representative, a government employee who 
sometimes has little formal archaeological training; site supervisors; students with 
varying levels of education, nationalities, and international travel experience. These 
people are all usually from the middle class with an urban background. In addi- 
tion, there are landowners and local authorities who have vested interests in the 
excavation, from ownership of the land, granting permission to excavate, hiring and 
compensation of laborers, and the laborers (usually villagers) themselves. How does 
one juggle needs that revolve around a group of educated members of the middle 
class who generally do not earn a wage, less educated local inhabitants who are 
employed as wage laborers, local landowners' expectations, and national bureau- 
cracies, to come up with fair compensation drawn from limited resources? 

Even today, laborers usually continue to be completely alienated from the exca- 
vation. They are paid a wage that is either set by the local authorities or negotiated 
with the director of the excavation. The wage is always substantially below the level 
at which laborers would be paid in the West, but funding agencies would never fund 
an application that budgets for Western wage rates - and moreover there is the easy 
rationale that most Westerners on the excavation also receive very low payments, if 
any at all. The costs of living locally and the disparities that would exist between 
the wages of excavation laborers and other locals must also be considered. In some 
countries such as Turkey the wage is set by the government - in some cases, under 
IMF restrictions - and varies from area to area based on local wage differences. 
But in other situations such as in Iraq and Syria, each director personally negoti- 
ates with the laborers or local headman with regard to payment. Having to negoti- 
ate sets up a conflict between limited funding, which includes the assumption of 
paying low wages, local laborers who are vulnerable because of their need for money 
and endemic high rate of joblessness, and ethical responsibilities to pay a fair wage. 
The end result is that laborers usually end up with very low wages that do nothing 
to make them feel engaged with the project or with the visiting Westerners. 

Laborers are usually seen as unskilled wage earners in need of constant super- 
vision by the skilled non-local supervisor, a relationship that is colonial in nature 
(Berggren and Hodder 2003:422). This relationship is maintained even when the 
laborers have accumulated knowledge by working on the site for numerous seasons, 
whereas supervisors often change from year to year. The entire enterprise contin- 
ues to be similar to archaeology 100 years ago when a small elite arrived in a com- 
munity, employed a number of local inhabitants, got the material they wanted 
and/or used up their funds, and then left, never to be seen again by any local. Today 
the material that workmen excavate is rarely available to them after the project is 


over. They do not go to museums, which are usually not situated nearby and are 
not part of the workers' cultural life. Local inhabitants' interest in or understand- 
ing of the past and its material remains are rarely investigated or addressed. On the 
other hand, the educated members of the excavation, particularly the Westerners 
involved, gain professional experience, and they may use the data and even stories 
they hear from workmen to further their careers. 

How can we change these ongoing colonialist inequities of wage and status? 
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of studies about the interactions between various 
groups on Middle Eastern excavations and how excavations impact the lives and 
opinions of local inhabitants (although there are some reports from Catal Hoyiik: 
Shankland 1996, 2000). However, there is currently a group of archaeologists who 
are developing an archaeological approach that considers these issues and seeks to 
rectify them by including local inhabitants as partners, not as "labor." Community 
archaeology is a "distinctive set of practices within a wider discipline . . . the most 
important distinguishing characteristic is the relinquishing of at least partial control 
to a project to the local community" (Marshall 2002:211). 

There is a need to establish inclusive policies such as those of community archae- 
ology in Middle Eastern archaeology. While most of the community archaeology 
projects to date have involved indigenous peoples living in countries dominated by 
people of European descent (Spector 1993; Field et al. 2000; Arden 2002; Crosby 
2002), the project of S. Moser et al. (2002) in Egypt provides an example of the 
possibilities for community archaeology in the Middle East (see also Yahya, this 
volume) . By establishing a collaborative framework, archaeologists, who are gaining 
intellectual and career benefits from another society's heritage, are at the same time 
providing that society with an equal opportunity to benefit from the endeavor. 
Moser and team have included the inhabitants of Quseir al Qadim in a project to 
excavate the Roman and Mamluk harbor that was located there. Inclusion started 
with the original planning of the excavation, followed through with the training and 
employment of the local inhabitants, the creation of a heritage center that functions 
as a place where historical and cultural information about the community itself 
will be presented, and eventually the establishment of a tourist destination. While 
the heritage center does represent the interests of foreigners in having a tourist 
destination, the goal is to structure it so that the local community and economy 
benefits. The heritage center was a primary objective of the project; displays 
and temporary exhibits were designed from the onset of the excavation to generate 
interest and ensure that community members would be informed of the excava- 
tion's progress. The center provides educational opportunities as well as a forum 
for feedback between locals and foreign members of the team. Interviews with local 
people about their heritage were also considered a central component of the project. 
Interviews provided insights into how people respond to archaeological discoveries 
and provided diverse cultural interpretations about the complete life history of 
the site. However, at present the interviews are one-sided, being initiated by 

For a community such as Quseir, the role of the excavation in tourist develop- 
ment must be considered, in that tourism is a major industry in Egypt. Rather than 


reproducing the stereotypical Pharaonic representations, the community project ini- 
tiated a program to produce goods inspired by finds from the site. These objects as 
well as books and guides will be available for sale at the community center, con- 
tributing to its becoming a self-sustaining entity (Moser et al. 2002). 

The final part of this project is Western excavators' understanding and commit- 
ment to the site for a very long period of time, well past the excavation and 
even report publication. The community archaeology project's involvement in the 
community from its inception to establishing a self-sustaining center that can con- 
tinue after their departure is notable. Generally, we are not really aware of the 
impact that our presence has on the lives of the local inhabitants, who are usually 
the rural poor. We certainly know a lot about how excavations impact research goals, 
careers, and museum acquisitions, but we need to find and pursue different ways 
to practice excavation, ones that will necessarily be more expensive and are done 
less quickly because they address needs of local partnership. 

For instance: dam construction 

My second example is enacted on a larger scale than the immediate relations 
between archaeologists and local communities. Turkey is in the middle of a giant 
dam building project called the Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP) (Iraq, before 
2003, and Syria are also undertaking dam-building projects). The goal of the project 
is to establish a series of dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in order to bring 
electricity and provide irrigation to an area of ca. 30,000 square miles, larger than 
the combined area of Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands. If GAP is com- 
pleted according to plan, it will include 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric plants and 1.7 
million hectares of irrigated land (Martz 1995; Ozdogan 2000:60). Three major 
dams, the Ataturk, Keban, and Birecik, as well as many smaller ones have been 
completed. The Turkish government claims that the resulting irrigation will enable 
farmers to grow a wider range of crops besides the grain that has been grown in 
the area and will allow Turkey to supply much of the food for the Middle East 
(Martz 1995). Officially, the dams will increase Turkish hydroelectric capacity and 
thereby contribute to industrial growth and an increase in the standard of living. 
However, most of the people affected and displaced by the dam projects are Kurds, 
people with whom the Turkish government has been in direct conflict, in some cases 
amounting to war, since 1984. Unofficially, the dams will do nothing to right the 
tensions between the Kurdish urban populations and the central Turkish govern- 
ment. Their construction will only add to the already large population of displaced 
and underserved Kurds in urban areas. People and groups who criticize govern- 
ment policies are considered by the government to be Kurdish Nationalists (as 
opposed to Turkish Nationalists) and prosecuted. Additionally, the population dis- 
placement caused by the dams has been used to dislocate the rural Kurdish resis- 
tance movement. Further important consequences of the project include the 
appearance of malaria and leishmaniosis (Bosshard 1999) and the widespread and 


adverse affect of planned irrigation systems on local ecology and farming practices, 
for example, effecting a change from subsistence and grain crops to cash crop 
farming with its attendant dependence on a market economy. Finally, these dams 
on the Tigris and Euphrates drastically decrease the volume of water that flows 
downstream to Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government continues to follow Presi- 
dent Demirel's 1992 statement that water is a Turkish natural resource and that 
they do not tell oil-producing countries what to do with their oil (Martz 1995; 
Bosshard 2000; 2000). This attitude to water rights is cause for 
concern in a part of the world where water has always been important but now is 
essential to support growing populations in countries downstream of Turkey 
(Armagan 1992; Demirsar 1994; Jehl 2002). 

It is generally acknowledged that the resettlement program for the 150,000- 
200,000 people impacted by the filling of the Ataturk Dam (completed in 1992) 
did not meet international standards of compensation (Yildiz 2001). It has been 
reported that at least 80 percent of the people affected received no compensation, 
and the resettlement resulted in major social problems when small communities 
were relocated to urban areas (Yildiz 2001). An archaeological site survey and 
program of excavations were associated with the construction project. Although 
many archaeological sites were flooded by the dam reservoir, their loss received little 
attention other than in Ph.D. dissertations and papers by archaeologists working 
on dam "rescue" projects. 

The recent completion of the Birecik Dam also did not receive much interna- 
tional attention until the flooding of the site of Zeugma. The loss of the Roman 
mosaics there was the subject of much press coverage that usually included dis- 
cussion about the loss to world heritage (Basgelen and Ergec 2000). Indeed, the 
amount of international attention to the flooding of an important site was unprece- 
dented for the whole GAP project (even though more sites were impacted by the 
Ataturk dam). But how many times did one read about the 30,000 people who 
were displaced? The case of Zeugma, with coverage in the Western press generat- 
ing great interest in the site's stunningly preserved remains, contributes to increased 
international awareness of archaeological sites lost through dam building. But the 
press never gave sustained coverage to local inhabitants' loss of livelihoods and 

The next major component of the GAP project is to be the Ilisu dam. When 
completed, the Ilisu dam will affect the lives of between 36,000 (Ilisu Dam Cam- 
paign) and 78,000 (Yildiz 2001) people. ICOMOS describes the project as "a 
social, cultural, and environmental disaster" (Bumbaru et al. 2000:179). Archaeol- 
ogists are concerned that the area to be flooded is a portion of the upper Tigris 
basin that has been occupied since at least the Middle Paleolithic, yet as of 2001 
only one-fifth of the area has been surveyed for archaeological sites (Kitchen and 
Ronayne 2001). Among the cultural and social consequences of the dam is the 
scheduled flooding of the town of Hasankeyf . This Kurdish regional center has cul- 
tural remains dating back at least 10,000 years, including occupations by various 
historic peoples from the Assyrians through the Ottomans. It continues today as an 


important center for the surrounding villagers, with up to 30,000 pilgrims coming 
to visit the holy site of the tomb of Imam Abdullah each year (Ihsu Dam 

In part as a result of the flooding of Zeugma, a growing number of NGOs are 
organizing protests around the Ihsu dam. They likely increase their chances of catch- 
ing public attention by referring to the rich archaeology and heritage of Hasankeyf, 
thus reminding people of the "loss" of Zeugma. Working with NGOs is an oppor- 
tunity for archaeologists to contribute their particular expertise about the value of 
archaeological sites and thus broaden the range of protests and increase the strength 
of national and international appeals against dams. One way to do this is to join 
forces with organizations that emphasize these issues, such as the World Commis- 
sion on Dams or the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), 
both of which have addressed the Ihsu Dam crisis (Brandt and Hassan 2000; 
Bumbaru et al. 2000). While the major strength of archaeology's voice is through 
its field of recognized expertise, there is no reason why archaeologists should not 
also discuss the toll on living people who are displaced as well as the damage to 
sites. Is that not indeed part of embracing an inclusive community approach to 
archaeology? The various campaigns against the Ihsu dam illustrate ways that 
archaeologists can contribute their expertise and lend authority to a larger cam- 
paign aimed at preventing a disastrous project. 

Some archaeologists have done just that. Kitchen and Ronayne write that pre- 
venting the construction of the Ihsu dam is the only realistic archaeological strat- 
egy, but, more importantly to my mind, they add, "this is particularly the case since 
archaeologists increasingly recognize the rights of indigenous, ethnic minority and 
other local communities to play an equal part in the decision making about inves- 
tigations of cultural heritage" (Kitchen and Ronayne 2001:38). The World Archae- 
ological Congress sent a public letter to Prime Minster Blair condemning the Ihsu 
Dam not only for the loss of archaeological sites but also for the inadequate con- 
sultation with "affected communities in the area regarding cultural heritage and 
[the fact that there was] no serious attempt to involve them on an equal basis" (Hall 
2001). In the case of the Ihsu dam, archaeological and human rights issues have 
been explicitly connected by some archaeologists who have spoken out and men- 
tioned both losses of sites and those incurred by modern inhabitants. 

The Ihsu Dam has come under a widespread and effective anti-dam campaign, 
not because it is necessarily the "worst" dam ever but because of circumstances 
of timing. Throughout the past ten years, the growing public awareness of issues of 
globalism, human rights, and the environment has contributed to a rising level of 
concern on the part of some about the impacts of dam building throughout the 
world, e.g., in China (Three Gorges Dam), India (Narmada River Valley), Mexico 
(proposed dams on the Usumacinta), as well as Turkey. Webpages, publicity, and 
letter-writing campaigns voicing concerns about the impact of the Ihsu dam have 
been undertaken by various Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs) and NGOs 
including the Council of Europe, Kurdish Human Rights Project, World Commis- 
sion on Dams, Friends of the Earth, Ihsu Dam Campaign, and World Archaeolog- 
ical Congress. As a result of this campaign, the British government backed down 


from its support of the construction firm Balfour Beatty, which in turn led to a suc- 
cessful effort to get Balfour Beatty to withdraw its participation in the construction 
of the Ihsu Dam. The firm's withdrawal has not stopped the dam construction, but 
it is an indication that public pressure can on occasion have a significant effect. 
Other participants, such as the Swiss Bank UBS and the Italian firm Impregilo, 
have also withdrawn from the project because of pressure from these and other 

Should one do salvage work in the context of a controversial dam project such 
as GAP? By participating in rescue archaeology that has been incorporated into 
dam projects to meet the often token requirement for funding from outside sources, 
is one contributing to an endeavor that should be opposed if judged in terms of the 
human rights of those directly affected? Such rights include those of livelihood in 
the case of devastating water restrictions for people downstream, or the loss of 
homes, social networks, and employment for those displaced, especially given that 
they may already be at risk from previous government policies. Archaeological 
surveys and excavations associated with dam construction are usually termed 
rescue, or salvage, projects. But archaeologists seldom, if ever, recover all informa- 
tion even in ideal circumstances. A beneficial approach would be for archaeologists 
to draw attention to what is lost rather than the usual notion of "saving" or "sal- 
vaging" as much as possible. The data that archaeologists document should include 
not only sites as they view them, but also the ways local inhabitants view those sites 
and the wider implications of their loss. 

On a more general level, do archaeologists living in developed countries have a 
right to protest that less developed countries undertake projects that are conceived 
to provide people with a better economy and living conditions? In 1986 the UN 
adopted the Declaration of the Right of Development which represented a change 
from its earlier position by declaring that development was not just economic 
growth but also some combination (albeit vague) of cultural, social, and political 
rights including self-reliance (Stohl et al. 1989:215). Unfortunately, many coun- 
tries continue to hold the traditional position that economic rights (i.e., economic 
growth) subsume all other rights. What value have human rights and fundamental 
freedoms if there are no jobs or food? On the other hand, food without freedom 
and jobs without justice would be negations of human dignity (Saksena 1989:xii). 

For instance: working in countries with repressive regimes 

Virtually everywhere today there are different degrees of repression of political, 
ethnic, economic, and religious practices. While certainly no archaeologist 
can expect to go into a country and effect major policy changes, is it unethical to 
work in a country ruled by a repressive government? Or is it perhaps more to the 
point that moral irresponsibility occurs when one goes there and ignores the wrongs 
being done? Regrettably, archaeologists often tend to focus solely on sites rather 
than also on living populations, thus decontextualizing themselves from "sites of 


For example, despite all the evidence that Iraq was guilty of flagrant human rights 
violations in the 1980s, archaeologists from the West continued to work there up 
to the first Gulf War, and some have continued to do so up to the present. During 
the 1980s Western governments were in full support of Iraq, supplying goods and 
arms, and certainly not decrying the extensive violations of civil and political rights 
committed by the Baathist regime. Should archaeologists have been more vocal at 
home or even in Iraq about the realities of life in that country? Were they not aware 
of local conditions because of the cultural gulf between themselves and their 
workmen? Would providing testimony to human rights organizations have been 
helpful or trying to publish information about the difficulties experienced by Iraqis 
at that time? Or is it more important to keep one's local contacts intact on the prin- 
ciple of "think global, act local," even if that means keeping quiet(er) at a broader 

Since the end of the first Gulf War, because it has served the political interest of 
the West, there has been a great deal written about the injustices of the Iraqi regime 
(Cockburn and Cockburn 1999; Hamza 2000; Coughlin 2002; Mackey 2002). 
Enormous hardships - indeed violations of human rights - have also occurred due 
to Western sanctions. Some archaeologists returned to work in Iraq during that 
time. What were they doing apart from excavating? Did they help Iraqis they came 
in contact with feel less isolated from the rest of the world? Does doing so mitigate 
an attitude that otherwise seems to suggest that ancient sites are more important 
than the destroyed lives of modern inhabitants? How pressing is cultural heritage 
- even if it is "world heritage" - when Iraq is in ruins? In political contexts that are 
ever increasingly global (what country can claim not to be linked to repressive 
regimes?), with human rights violations occurring in every country, where does one 
draw a line and decide that working in one country is no longer acceptable while 
working in another is? 

Oppressive regimes occur everywhere although Iraq under Saddam Hussein rep- 
resents a particularly egregious case. Unfortunately, archaeologists often hesitate to 
pass judgment on the political regimes of the countries in which they are working 
and also are reluctant to be involved in activism associated with criticizing these 
regimes. However, this reluctance is often due not to ignorance or even politesse 
to host governments: at the heart of the matter is often little but self-interest. The 
process of deciding whether or not to speak up or to work in a particular country 
is easily corrupted by self-legitimizing defenses based on one's own interests, which 
include not only intellectual passion, but job security. It is easy to rationalize a deci- 
sion by saying, wherever I work I will encounter problems, or adopting a cultural 
relativist stance ("who am I to judge another culture?"). 

I would suggest, at the risk of eating cherries with the devil, that one could eth- 
ically work in a country that is governed by a repressive regime if one also com- 
bines the decision with activism, both in the country where one is working and at 
home. Abroad, one could develop an inclusive project, whether along the lines of 
community archaeology mentioned above or some other type of local partnership. 
If local inclusion is not allowed, or the state controls all aspects of the excavation 
(i.e., you are actually working for that oppressive state), these are instances that 


define an ethical line one should not cross - one should not work in that country. 
At home, activism can include involvement with various organizations and speak- 
ing out (and writing) about issues related to the country in which one is working, 
or in cross-over activism, for example, people who work in Egypt speaking out about 
Syria and those working in Iran about Turkey. There one must take a risk: by bearing 
witness to what one has seen and experienced (both good and bad), one may be 
denied funding or permission to return to work in that country. And there is always 
the consideration that one's own country is supporting not only oppressive regimes 
but tyrannical ones guilty of heinous crimes (such as Western support of Iraq during 
the Iran-Iraq war) . There are ample grounds for activism with regards to Western 
national policies that support oppression at home and abroad. And yet, when faced 
with the decision whether to work in a country with clearly documented humani- 
tarian crimes on a dreadful scale, surely one should look elsewhere for a place to 
conduct archaeological research, while at the same time not dismissing the crimes 
and their victims by failing to protest against them and act for change. 

Archaeology and Human Rights 

As the previous examples illustrate, there are numerous competing interests and 
structures that contribute to the ethically challenging situations in which archaeol- 
ogy and archaeologists find themselves. Various institutions, from governmental to 
NGOs and IGOs, as well as legal agreements, including UN conventions and those 
of other international organizations, provide a structural framework that is meant 
both to confine the actions of interested parties and offer them some room to 
maneuver. Interest groups are themselves multiple, including local people in the 
countries where archaeologists work, Middle Eastern governments, Western funding 
agencies and educational institutions that employ archaeologists, and, of course, 
archaeologists themselves. 

As archaeologists, we often work and spend an important part of our lives among 
those who do not have such basic human rights as clean water, economic self- 
sufficiency, or self-determination, and people who are affected by national or inter- 
national projects such as dam construction or tourism. This means that we cannot 
pretend to be specialized professionals who explore only the past, whose expertise 
is generally conceived outside the profession (and sometimes within it as well) to 
be limited to matters that deal directly with archaeological materials and cultural 
heritage issues. In what follows, I consider some of the additional problems that we 
as archaeologists of the Middle East face if we take the sociopolitical and economic 
context of our work seriously. 

The current world context can be characterized as one that includes greater glob- 
alization, numerous instances of genocide, ecological destruction, and pandemics. 
Western states have become rhetorically associated with the liberal ideology that 
personal rights matter, that the vulnerable and marginalized should be accorded 
special attention, public authority should respect personal autonomy and prefer- 
ences, reason should prevail over emotionalism, and progress is possible (Forsythe 


2000:31). These are worthy ideals, and human rights claims have become tools and 
weapons for people who are striving to achieve better lives, but they also can be 
used as tool of oppression, such as when they are employed in nationalist rhetoric 
(Ishay and Goldfisher 1997). 

An important tenet of liberal ideology is the concept of global norms centered 
on human rights, and fundamental human rights are understood as transcending 
cultural differences. However, the doctrine of transcendent human rights is seen by 
some as just another example of the conceptual, cultural, and philosophical Western 
imperialism over non-European peoples and traditions (Matua 2002:155). Cultural 
relativism has been invoked as a useful tool in the fight against cultural imperial- 
ism. Relativism embraces the view that there are throughout the world a great diver- 
sity of morals, values, and histories. Differences in attitudes and practices are seen 
as part of a diverse world, and the traditions of a group, whether ethnic, national, 
or other, as essential to the well-being and survival of that group. However, prac- 
ticing relativism makes it difficult to respond to outstanding acts of political and 
ethnic violence that are currently so prevalent (Hinton 2002:2). Holding the belief 
that one can work for the cessation of political and social violence puts one in the 
position of endorsing the ideology of global human rights, but being sensitive to 
issues of cultural domination requires one to consider how these issues can be 
approached in a culturally appropriate manner. 

Everywhere there are instances of oppression and lack of self-determination, and 
the concept of human rights is very much a part of the current international social 
and political context. How are archaeologists responding? In many cases, by burying 
their heads in the sand and claiming that their research is apolitical. In other cases, 
archaeologists are emerging as participants in the discourse on human rights - at 
least tangentially - through their identification as experts on cultural heritage. 
Archaeology has been used in international cultural heritage identification by 
human rights activists who are fighting for political and economic rights for minor- 
ity peoples such as the Kurds (Yildiz 2001). This is a sometimes conflicted posi- 
tion in that archaeologists raise their voices over the loss of archaeological sites while 
remaining silent on the destruction of homes and livelihoods of inhabitants on and 
around sites (for an exception, see Kitchen and Ronayne 2001), and only rarely 
consider inequities in their own working relations with local people. 

As archaeologists we are already intrinsically involved in human rights debates 
because rights to cultural heritage are included in the United Nations International 
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ishay 1997). Often the right 
to a cultural heritage is used by those trying to gain wider economic or political 
power (for example, Yildiz 2001). Here archaeologists find themselves in yet another 
potentially contradictory situation. On the one hand their role as arbitrators of 
archaeological cultural heritage leads to their work being incorporated into large 
human rights campaigns, often international in name but actually Western domi- 
nated. On the other hand, they work within local communities and should be famil- 
iar with the particular needs and desires of the inhabitants living near archaeological 
sites. For example, the reports of the World Commission on Dams, which include 
a substantial contribution by archaeologists (Brandt and Hassan 2000), details the 


impacts of dam building. Documenting shoddy economics, huge social costs, and 
violations of human rights, they advocate more rigorous standards for planning 
future projects, including prior informed consent of affected peoples. But it has 
been pointed out that the Commission avoids addressing the fact "that dams are 
the very antithesis of development for the poor because they enable the expropri- 
ation of the resources of the river valley, placing the livelihood of the people who 
depend on rivers at the disposal of those who have the power to exploit them" 
(Williams and McCully 2000). Archaeologists work locally and can provide signif- 
icant insights of their own and of the rural populations with whom they interact. 
When they return to the West it is important not to be co-opted into ignoring the 
urgency of local concerns in the face of grand-scale international cultural heritage 
campaigns, comprised of various organizations with overlapping, but not identical 

There are a great variety of laws, local and national, as well as international 
treaties and conventions that define what kinds of items form part of international 
"cultural heritage." On the international level the UNESCO Convention for the 
Protection ofWorld Cultural and National Heritage (1972) gives broad definitions 
that have provided a basis for many of the laws regarding cultural heritage. This 
UNESCO Convention states that "monuments, groups of buildings, and sites 
with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological 
value" could be part of cultural heritage. To be identified and recognized as a World 
Heritage Site, the items must have "outstanding universal value from the point of 
view of history, art or science." Needless to say, who does the defining is crucial to 
the identification of outstanding universal value. Unfortunately, while indigenous 
peoples have histories and objects of historical value, these are often not recognized 
by law unless they are endorsed by someone who is regarded as legitimate 
(powerful) by local, national, or international establishments. Archaeologists, along 
with historians and anthropologists, are recognized by the UN, courts of law, 
funding institutions, and governments as legitimate experts on cultural matters. But 
how different is the dynamic between archaeologists and institutions that defer to 
their expertise on the definition of "real" history (termed cultural heritage) from 
that of the British Museum curators in the 1 9th century who set up a collection of 
sculptures called the "Chain of Art" in order to establish for the public which art 
was (and by implication, which was not) significant (Jenkins quoted in Larsen 

While today other histories are known and written, the West continues to hold 
the imprimatur of their legitimacy: the UN's role in identifying and legislating cul- 
tural heritage is a case in point. Western archaeologists and museums have not 
always considered that the ease with which their expert opinions are accepted is 
due to their being members of dominant national or international communities 
rather than the absolute value of what they are saying. 

It does sometimes appear as though the past has been narrowed down and 
limited to the degree that only "legitimate" groups can claim a "cultural heritage," 
which is often synonymous with national identification. Thus, in order to garner 
rights of self-determination and all they entail in terms of group social and politi- 


cal rights, one must have a legitimate cultural heritage. Whether it is the so-called 
international community claiming that a site is part of world heritage, a nation-state 
asserting national heritage, or a particular group affirming its own heritage, cultural 
heritage has become a powerful ideological tool. Unfortunately, there is an inher- 
ent circularity, in that a group must be legitimate in order to assert its cultural heri- 
tage but also needs that heritage to claim legitimacy. This no-win situation is further 
complicated by the fact that group identity is a construct with a political function 
and is constantly in flux. 

By embracing the identity of world citizens working for world heritage, Western 
archaeologists in the Middle East today can justify and explain themselves and their 
profession when accused of being exploitative or imperialist. Who are the mourn- 
ers when an archaeological site is destroyed, and what are the relative degrees of 
legitimacy attributed to their voices? Are they the villagers who watch their homes 
and fields disappearing beneath rising dam waters or the far away "world citizens" 
who may wish to visit the area as tourists or excavate there to enhance an aca- 
demic career? Legitimacy remains within the domain of those with political and 
economic power and not necessarily with those who have the most to lose. 

Ultimately, there is the question of priorities: are the living people or the 
artifacts and sites of those long dead more important? Do food, shelter, and 
rights to self-determination take precedence over preserving material remains of 
(someone's) cultural heritage, or the other way around? I suspect that many archae- 
ologists would claim that these priorities can be finessed by relocating people to 
"better homes" and by excavating a site so that villagers' cultural heritage is 
"enriched." These are nothing more than self-serving arguments, however, as it is 
seldom possible to avoid giving precedence to either the local inhabitants' needs or 
archaeologists' desire to excavate. Nor can archaeologists invoke world citizenship 
and its attendant claim of contributing to world heritage as justification when a site 
they wish to "save" is part of a project that relocates thousands of people without 
compensating them for the loss of their homes and livelihoods (for example, 
Zeugma: Basgelen and Ergec 2000). However, it is not just issues associated with 
dam building but all of the problems of archaeological work discussed above that 
can no longer be brushed aside as pertinent to the domain of human rights rather 
than archaeology. 

While private transnational groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty 
International, and international laws about human rights are growing in number, 
the most powerful key for increasing the number of people who have basic rights 
remains locked up with national policies that express national interests. It is states 
that approve human rights legislation, and it is states that manipulate foreign assis- 
tance in relation to the rhetoric of human rights. But states work for their own self- 
interests, and these interests do not necessarily match those of human rights 
organizations. States do not exist to report the truth about human conditions; they 
exist to exercise power in the national interest as the governing elites define it. The 
most that NGOs can do is pressure states and corporations by publicizing what 
they identify as wrongdoing in hopes that they will respond to subsequent public 
embarrassment by changing the targeted policies. 


NGOs do not have large or concentrated memberships that can threaten elec- 
toral punishment, nor do they have budgets that are capable of making or with- 
holding significant financial contributions to political parties (although for many, 
contributing would be unethical). NGOs, and here I include archaeological asso- 
ciations, publish information in the hopes of long-term education and short-term 
dissemination to influence policy. Most members of archaeological associations 
would not see themselves as capable of individually influencing foreign or national 
policy, nor would they consider their professional organizations to be the same as 
"expert" human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International or Human Rights 
Watch. But organizations do have a voice, presented as the sum of their members' 
voices. Archaeology is in a position to use its authority with regards to the value 
that ancient objects and places can have in the present in order to widen arguments 
for human rights. Archaeological organizations have already begun to speak out and 
join with other organizations, particularly with regards to dam construction. The 
World Archaeological Congress wrote to Tony Blair about Zeugma, and its members 
have joined with environmentalists and others at the World Commission on Dams 
to publish reports and working papers on the cultural and environmental damage 
that occurs with dam construction (Brandt and Hassan 2000). Working within large 
organizations does risk co-option and the silencing of some positions. And there 
remain many other instances, such as the recent 2003 invasion of Iraq, where 
archaeologists generally have not raised their voices to protest anything other than 
the destruction of sites and theft of antiquities. 


With growing self-reflection in archaeology, multiple practices of the discipline in 
the past and present have become, at least in some circles, subject to explicit dis- 
cussion. Clearly, archaeologists practice a profession that ought to engage with 
larger social and political contexts. While one may question whether the concept of 
global human rights is truly international or one that denies the diversity of human 
cultures, it is certainly an endeavor in which archaeology is emerging as a legit- 
imizing voice. As such, archaeologists need to become much more involved with 
human rights issues and therefore with debates about their validity. Archaeology of 
the Middle East is still largely at the receiving end of the relationship between 
human rights and archaeology, but it is conceivable that scholars could contribute 
to the solution of humanitarian problems, even if their contributions are incre- 
mental (for example, through the World Archaeological Congress) . By excavating 
the past and living in or alongside communities that are threatened in the present, 
archaeologists have within their remit both a tool for change and obligations to the 
people they work with. Archaeologists are participants in a social and political praxis 
that goes far beyond that of many other academics. 

Whether on the level of personal conscience, in deciding whether or not to work 
under an oppressive regime, or at a community level, establishing ethical and fair 
relations with the people who live next to archaeological sites, or participating in 


international campaigns that are far removed from immediate archaeological issues 
revolving around the local community, the praxis of archaeology challenges us to 
be self-reflexive but to resist turning that reflection into a career tool. A starting 
point must be the local communities within which we work, both at home and 
abroad, and considered decisions that respect the rights of people to strive to 
achieve a better life economically, politically, and culturally. 

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Archaeology and 
Nationalism in the 
Holy Land 



Political and religious interests in the Holy Land have resulted in the greatest 
density of archaeological excavations anywhere in the Middle East, if not world- 
wide. Contrary to common belief, however, those interests seem to have done more 
harm than good to the science of archaeology in the Holy Land and the Middle 
East as a whole. It has been said that the introduction of the Bible into the realm 
of Middle Eastern archaeology is primarily due to the efforts of the Palestine Explo- 
ration Fund (PEF), which was established in 1865 by a group of British church- 
men and biblical scholars. These individuals sought to use archaeology to restore 
faith in the Bible, which was being eroded by Darwinism (Lipman 1988). But the 
bond between the Bible and the Middle East goes back far beyond the 1 9th century. 
Religious attachments of Jews, Christians, and Moslems to the holy places have 
long been a primary motivation for the exploration of the Holy Land and its an- 
tiquities. In addition to the visits of millions of pilgrims who have frequented the 
country from the fourth century C.E. on, early excavations here were undertaken 
by private individuals seeking religious relics and ancient works of art (Silberman 
1993). This bond between archaeology and religion was further illustrated in 
modern times by the establishment of more Western archaeological societies includ- 
ing the Deutsche Palastina Verein in 1878, the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique of 
the French Dominican order in 1890, and the American Schools of Oriental 
Research in 1900. 

Basic to biblical archaeology as a discipline and field of study is a strong belief 
in the historicity of the Bible. For many biblical archaeologists, the field is geared 
primarily towards proving the accuracy of the biblical narratives. Biblical archaeol- 
ogists have concentrated their efforts exclusively on biblical sites - Iron Age through 
Roman period - and even on specific layers dating to this period. This has been the 
case in Palestine as well as in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, 


and even Egypt. Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, and even prehistoric sites and 
layers have been excluded from archaeological investigations and from presenta- 
tion(s) to the public. Biblical archaeologists represent an extreme example of the 
bias towards literary sources, namely the Bible, while archaeologists in general are 
traditionally biased towards material culture. It is not uncommon for biblical 
archaeologists to argue that when the evidence from an archaeological excavation 
does not fit that from the Bible, one may conclude that the archaeological evidence 
is either incomplete or incorrectly interpreted (Pritchard 1962:22). Biblical pas- 
sages are taken literally as guides to the location, identification, and interpretation 
of archaeological sites and finds, as Kenyon indicates explicitly in her Jericho exca- 
vation report. She concludes, however, that "in attempting to reconcile literary and 
archaeological evidence, biblical records cannot be taken literally" (Kenyon 

Archaeologists have recently been questioning the validity and motivations 
behind the use of biblical narratives in archaeology and even the foundations of 
biblical archaeology as a discipline (see Finkelstein, this volume). This paper is 
devoted to investigating the impact of politics and religion on the archaeology of 
the Middle East in general and of the Holy Land in particular. It will focus on the 
role of archaeology in the current Middle Eastern conflicts, which have troubled 
the region and the world over the past century. The concentration here will be on 
the most recent developments in Palestinian/Israeli archaeology rather than the 
distant past. 

Archaeology and Nationalism 

Archaeology has often been used in different parts of the world to support na- 
tionalist, colonialist, and imperialist claims, with horrifying results (Trigger 1984; 
Bernbeck and Pollock 1996). There does not seem to be a way to exclude religion 
and politics from archaeology, which is after all a social science and hence politi- 
cal and partial. Politicization, however, can be a blinding factor in archaeology when 
it is exaggerated and used irrationally, as has in fact been the case in the Holy Land. 
There seems to be no place in the world where archaeology has been given such 
immediacy and has been so much manipulated as a political and ideological tool 
as in the Holy Land. Archaeology here has obvious religious and political conno- 
tations and has been used to serve modern political goals, including laying claims 
to the land and denying the claims and narratives of the other side. Archaeology 
has thus far added to the competing claims of the two modern peoples, the Pales- 
tinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. 

Israeli state ideology bases its claims to the Holy Land on biblical narratives 
dating back to the Iron Age. It asserts that religious and linguistic continuity sup- 
ports their claims, citing the survival of the Hebrew language and Jewish religion 
as proof. These points are taken as compelling arguments in the face of Arab and 
Moslem assertions of their continuous presence in the country over the past 1,400 
years. The Israeli side tends to deny the multicultural character of the Holy Land, 


fearing that an admission of that would eradicate the Jewish nature of the present 
state of Israel. 

The Palestinian Arabs on the other hand cite more recent events, especially the 
domination of Islam in Palestine during the past 14 centuries. More and more 
Palestinians today argue, in response to Israeli claims, that their presence in the 
land dates from the Bronze and Early Iron Ages. The Palestinian president Yasser 
Arafat is renowned for his famous slogan, "innafiha qawman jabbarin" referring to 
the biblical passage (Numbers 13:23) in which the scouts of Moses warned against 
attacking the Canaanites who were a great people with very strong, walled cities. 
From this point of view, the Palestinian Arabs of today are the direct descendants 
of the Canaanites of the Bronze Age, whose presence in the country preceded that 
of the Israelites. Other Palestinians express their claims to the land in terms of cul- 
tural continuity and point out that modern Palestinian towns and villages display 
a remarkable cultural continuity from the Bronze and Iron Ages into the modern 
period. Those towns and villages often have names that reflect those listed in ancient 
records. Furthermore, their traditional agro-pastoralist village subsistence strategies 
are believed to have ancient origins (Nashef 2000:25). Palestinians in general refuse 
to recognize Jewish heritage in Palestine, fearing that this recognition will lead to 
the appropriation of their land by the modern state of Israel. 

Biblical archaeology has so far served to complicate the work of archaeologists 
in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not 
fought by machine guns and fighter jets alone, but also by shovels, in pits, school 
curricula, and on computer screens. War zone archaeology has attained the status 
of a new discipline in the archaeology of the country, perhaps as a legitimate suc- 
cessor to biblical, Palestinian, or Israeli archaeology. 

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 was partially predicated on the bib- 
lical history of the region, particularly the stories of the kingdoms of David and 
Solomon. Ever since 1948, the work of most Israeli archaeologists has been pri- 
marily geared towards promoting Jewish claims and establishing a Jewish national 
identity (Glock 1985; Rosen 1998). That is probably why biblical sites in Israel and 
even in the occupied Palestinian territories receive far more attention from Israeli 
archaeologists than prehistoric or Islamic sites in Israel itself. This partiality also 
holds true for official Israeli bodies, including the Israeli national parks authority, 
the Israeli department of antiquity, and the departments of antiquity of the 
Israeli civil administrations of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Despite their 
abundance, Islamic sites - many of which are large and important cities in Israel 
itself, such as Ramla, Jaffa, and Akko - have been neglected and left to decay, while 
smaller, less significant, and less attractive biblical sites, such as Masada and even 
Qumran and Herodion in the West Bank, have been nicely restored and presented 
to the public. This explicit selection of contexts in the archaeological record to be 
disregarded or even destroyed is equivalent to erasure of memory and selective 

Israeli involvement in the management of Palestinian cultural heritage, especially 
since 1967, and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel have created 
much alienation, if not enmity, between Palestinians and their cultural heritage. 


This has found its expression in the widespread phenomenon of illegal digging at 
ancient sites, what is locally known as grave digging. This illegal activity is feeding 
a legal, but badly regulated Israeli antiquities market and through it an aggressive 
international antiquities trade. Previously excavated, mostly biblical sites, are being 
targeted by what may be called subsistence looting, because of widespread knowl- 
edge that biblical period finds sell better to Israeli antiquities dealers as well as to 
Christian and Jewish collectors worldwide. Biblical sites and objects have become 
in this context a kind of negative heritage (Meskell 2002). 

The other excuse for targeting biblical sites that is often cited by illegal Pales- 
tinian excavators and antiquities dealers is that they were excavated by foreign or 
Israeli archaeologists and are thus serving Israeli rather than Palestinian purposes. 
This category of dealers is in fact making a deliberate choice of which sites to van- 
dalize and which to leave alone. Some of those dealers would go so far as to accuse 
archaeologists and conservationists, including Palestinians, of serving the enemy if 
they were to oppose illegal digging of ancient sites or make any effort to preserve 
biblical sites in the occupied Palestinian lands. They point out that the presence of 
such sites in the Palestinian areas was used by Israeli settlers to justify confiscating 
Palestinian land and building settlements on it. This view is further illustrated by 
the Israeli civil administration's policy of denying building permits to Palestinians 
if antiquities are found in or around their land. This policy, which pays no regard 
to legitimate Palestinian needs, has contributed to the enmity between Palestinians 
and their cultural heritage and has rendered the work of archaeologists and con- 
servationists much more difficult. 

Even when Israel handed over six major cities in the West Bank and most of the 
Gaza Strip to the Palestinian authority in 1996 as part of the Oslo accords, it refused 
to turn over most archaeological sites, although many of them lie within populated 
Palestinian areas. The Israeli military authorities insisted on maintaining full control 
over those sites under the pretext that most of them are holy to Jews, and thus 
Palestinians, who are overwhelmingly Moslem, cannot be trusted to look after them. 
Such sites as Sebastia and Joseph's Tomb near Nablus, Herodion near Bethlehem, 
Tel Al Nasba, Gibeon, and Bethel near Ramallah, just to name a few, remained in 
Israeli hands. But the Israeli military authorities have, unsurprisingly, done nothing 
to upgrade or protect them, while at the same time they have effectively prevented 
the Palestinian authorities from doing so themselves. Many sites have literally 
become isolated and neglected Israeli islands in the midst of a sea of Palestinian 

The current uprising (intifada) which began in October 2000 resulted in rapid 
erosion of the economic base of the Holy Land, including both the Palestinian areas 
and Israel. Even though the latter economy is undoubtedly much larger and more 
immune, the new situation caused a huge setback for archaeology in both coun- 
tries. Not only did archaeological activities decline, and in the case of the Pales- 
tinian areas ceased almost entirely, but the situation in previously excavated sites, 
most of which are biblical sites, has deteriorated to an unprecedented level. Fur- 
thermore, due to the decline of the tourism sector and decreasing revenues in the 
past couple of years, the Israeli and Palestinian authorities are no longer willing or 


able to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of historical sites. The once flourish- 
ing tourist industries such as ceramics, olive-wood carving, embroidery, and tradi- 
tional glass are on the verge of collapse. As a result, popular interest in tourist 
attractions including ancient sites, biblical and otherwise, has declined remarkably. 
The Palestinian authority is presently not in any position to protect or maintain 
cultural heritage sites in the West Bank and Gaza, let alone biblical sites. Under- 
standably, the situation of protected archaeological sites, particularly biblical sites, 
in Israel and even in some parts of the West Bank is less dreadful than their coun- 
terparts in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza, but that is far from saying that 
ancient sites in Israel are in a healthy situation. In fact even the most important 
tourist attractions in Israel itself, such as the old cities of Akko and Jaffa, and even 
Jerusalem, are in bad shape. They are abandoned and deserted as a consequence 
of the intifada. 

The rate of unemployment amongst Palestinians during the current intifada has 
reached unprecedented levels, 60% according to the most conservative estimates of 
the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. More than half of the Palestinian population 
of the West Bank and Gaza are living below the poverty line of two US dollars per 
person per day, according to the World Bank. That represents an almost fourfold 
decline in the daily revenues of more than seven dollars, or $2,600 per capita annual 
income, before the intifada. In these circumstances many Palestinians, especially in 
rural areas, have resorted to the most desperate and destructive practice of van- 
dalizing archaeological sites to sell finds to whomever will buy them. Most objects 
find their way into Israel, while others go abroad to worldwide collectors who come 
to the country as tourists seeking "holy objects" of all kinds. 

The other form of Israeli involvement in Palestinian cultural heritage, which has 
contributed to the alienation of Palestinians from their cultural heritage, is the 
Israeli settlement policy. Most settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, such as 
Ghanim, Shilo, Bethel, Michmas, Kiriat Arba', etc., have been given biblical names 
regardless of their historical or religious significance. It is true that some settlers, 
especially the ultra-orthodox, are ideologically motivated to live in the occupied 
West Bank and Gaza, but one should not infer from this that Israeli settlers go to 
the West Bank to preserve biblical or Jewish heritage. The overwhelming majority 
of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian occupied territories are in fact driven there by 
political and economic, rather than religious or historical motivations. Houses in 
the settlements are simply much cheaper than houses in Israel, and settlers receive 
generous subsidies from the state, at the expense of the Israeli and American tax- 
payers. I very much doubt if any settler would stay in the West Bank or Gaza if it 
were not for the incentives offered by the government in the form of cheap housing 
and generous subsidies. 

That many settlements such as Bethel, Gibeon, Michmas, Atarot, Anatot, Beit 
Horon, and Kiriat Arba' are removed from archaeological sites attests to the fact 
that the settlement movement is fundamentally about colonizing Palestinian land 
rather than preserving Jewish heritage. Most archaeological sites in the West Bank 
and Gaza Strip could not be included within settlements because they are occu- 
pied by modern Palestinian villages or towns. In fact, settlers living nearby rarely 


visit these sites, and I would argue that very much like the Palestinian villagers, 
most of them hardly know where those sites are and are ignorant of their histori- 
cal and religious significance. Furthermore, most of the more than 200 large and 
small Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have no historical signif- 
icance whatsoever from a biblical viewpoint. The Gaza Strip settlements, for 
example, are hard to justify, as Gaza is not known to be significant in Jewish tradi- 
tions, nor is Jericho, which is a cursed city from a Jewish point of view, not to 
mention the tens of small and isolated hilltop settlements in the West Bank. 

Palestinian archaeologists accuse biblical scholars of neglecting Islamic sites and 
overlooking Islamic layers not only because they lack interest, but also because they 
lack knowledge of Islamic civilization and culture (Abu Khalaf 1987). The fact that 
we know so little about Islamic history and have more evidence for Bronze and Iron 
Age Palestine than for the Islamic period, which has dominated the landscape of 
the country and the Middle East as a whole over the past 1,400 years, is quite troub- 
ling for Palestinian archaeologists today. It is equally troubling that most hand- 
books on the archaeology of Palestine end with either the Persian or Roman periods. 
What little has been published of the Islamic period is limited to monumental archi- 
tecture, chiefly in Jerusalem. This means that the Islamic period is not an impor- 
tant connection with the past for biblical scholars and their intended Western 
audiences, according to Albert Glock, who concludes that "the history of archae- 
ology in Palestine has failed to portray the intellectual context which would vali- 
date it" (Glock 1987:5). The history of ancient Palestine has been ignored and 
silenced by biblical scholars because its object of interest has been an ancient Israel 
conceived and presented as the taproot ofWestern civilization (Whitelam 1996:1). 

A Step Forward 

It was not until recently that some archaeologists of the Holy Land, including some 
Israeli archaeologists, realized the need to insulate their studies from political and 
religious influences (Finkelstein 1991; Rosen 1998). These archaeologists repudi- 
ate discrimination against sites and occupations on the basis of their period, polit- 
ical, or religious connotations. They employ scientific methodologies and pursue 
the same questions as archaeologists in other countries, for example, studies of set- 
tlement patterns, trade, and economy of ancient civilizations. These archaeologists 
often run into conflicts with religious authorities, especially Jewish leaders, over 
excavations of sites containing human remains, and with nationalist leaders over 
their interpretations of archaeological evidence. This does not mean, however, that 
Israeli and other biblical archaeologists are about to abandon biblical sites; on the 
contrary, the biggest excavations currently under way in Israel are still conducted 
at famous biblical sites such as Ashkelon/Askalan in the south and Megiddo/Tell 
al-Mutasallim in the north. 

There are some other positive developments including the emergence of a new 
generation of Palestinian archaeologists, most of whom are trained at Western uni- 
versities in Europe and the US. This coincides with the materialization of several 


public Palestinian institutions to deal with Palestinian antiquities and cultural herit- 
age, including the Palestinian Authority's Departments of Archaeology in Gaza and 
the West Bank, the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE), the 
Center for Architectural Conservation (RIWAQ), and others, all of which were 
made possible after the coming of the Palestinian Authority to the West Bank and 
the Gaza Strip in 1996. It is still premature to talk of a well defined Palestinian 
school of archaeology, but Palestinians archaeologists are certainly trying to develop 
a sense of their past. Some of them are launching excavations in Gaza and the West 
Bank in cooperation with international colleagues, while others are trying to inject 
their own interpretations of previous archaeological work in the country (Yahya et 
al. 1999). 

It should be remembered here that although archaeology constitutes some kind 
of national obsession in Israel, or a second religion as some say, until very recently 
this discipline was totally neglected by Palestinian academics and institutions. The 
Israelis have more than a century of biblical scholarship and half a century of Israeli 
scholarship on their side, while the Palestinians are just beginning to introduce their 
reading of the history of the country in an effort to establish their own national 
identity (Ju'beh 2003). Palestinian archaeologists, like their Israeli counterparts, are 
wrestling with the issues of how and how much religion and politics should be 
allowed to influence their work. The issue is still far from being resolved, and it 
seems that a lot of ink and, regrettably, more blood too will be spilled before this 
issue is resolved satisfactorily. 

It appears that Palestinians in the past were content for others to authenticate 
what appeared to them to be self-evident - their rights to the land (Tamari 1987). 
But since those who investigate an arena of knowledge tend to bring to the inves- 
tigation their own ideological preferences and priorities, it is biblical archaeology 
and its Israeli-Zionist offshoots that have reigned supreme so far. It is quite indica- 
tive in this regard that the first serious program of archaeology at a Palestinian aca- 
demic institution did not start until the late 1980s. Its founding was due for the 
most part to the efforts of Albert Glock (1925-92), an American professor of 
archaeology affiliated with the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in 
Jerusalem from 1970-80. In 1976 Glock became affiliated with Birzeit University, 
and his sincere efforts culminated in the establishment of the first Palestinian Insti- 
tute of Archaeology at that university in 1988 (Kapitan 1999). It was not until the 
1990s that a few other programs of archaeology were established at two other Pales- 
tinian academic institutions, namely the Higher Institute of Islamic Archaeology at 
al-Quds University in 1992, and the departments of archaeology at the same uni- 
versity in 2000 and at al-Najah University, Nablus in 1993. It is most regrettable 
that the first Palestinian Institute of Archaeology at Birzeit never recovered from 
the tragic assassination of Prof. Glock in 1992, and it was closed down in 2003 
because of financial problems. 

There are still many obstacles that need to be overcome before one can start 
thinking of a proper policy to safeguard archaeological sites in the Holy Land, not 
least of which is facilitating access to sites, abandonment of the policies of segre- 
gation and closures, as well as the modernization of antiquities laws, including 


toughening laws governing the antiquities market if not banning trade in antiqui- 
ties altogether. To achieve that goal, all concerned official bodies in the Palestinian 
areas and in Israel, including the departments of antiquities, national parks author- 
ities, and the ministries of culture, tourism, and environment ought to act imme- 
diately. It is not enough that those official bodies be functional. They ought to be 
efficient and cooperative, too, to ensure a proper protection scheme for the an- 
tiquities of the Holy Land as a whole. 

The Holy Land and the West Bank of the Jordan River in particular encompass 
some of the most important world cultural heritage sites. It is the land of the ear- 
liest known human settlements and the world's holiest cities: Jerusalem, Jericho, 
Hebron, and Nablus, among others. Whatever the political solution for the Pales- 
tinian-Israeli conflict may be, the Holy Land is and always will be one unit from a 
cultural point of view, if not a splinter of a larger cultural sphere which includes 
the entire Middle East and beyond. And from an economic point of view, it is one 
tourist destination, or actually part of a larger tourist destination that includes at 
least Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. 

There should be no doubt that maintaining archaeological sites and the protec- 
tion of the Holy Land's cultural heritage can play a vital role in the economic revival 
of the country and the region as a whole. Economic viability will be one of the most 
crucial issues facing Palestine, Israel, and indeed the entire region in peacetime, 
and archaeologists have an important role to play in this regard. They can and 
should help in promoting reconciliation between the peoples of the region and the 
world at large by creating a framework to maximize the enjoyment of the country's 
and region's heritage for its people and for visitors from abroad. This will require 
them to render more neutral the study of history and archaeology, reevaluating 
periods and constellations within them, and encouraging the dissemination of 
knowledge and provision of educational materials, as well as facilitating access to 
all sites of interest to the world - prehistoric, biblical, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, 
and others. Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign archaeologists working in the Holy Land 
should commit themselves to the rich history, diversity, and resources of the 
country, and therefore to supporting an agenda that both protects heritage and pro- 
motes change. This will facilitate the mutual understanding of the past, something 
that biblical archaeologists in the past did not consider at all. Reconciliation may 
not inevitably lead to a "shared" version of our pasts - that may not in fact be pos- 
sible or desirable - but the interaction of our differing views and narratives will give 
vitality to our dialogue and present a challenge we seldom encounter in our work 
as archaeologists. 

Negotiating the Past 

During the Oslo process most Israeli and Palestinian politicians argued, and tried 
hard to convince their publics, that talking about the past and confronting the dif- 
ficult issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict would only complicate the negotiating 
process between the Palestinians and Israelis. The process itself and subsequent 


events in the region including the present intifada suggest that this view was ill-con- 
sidered. It is clear now that dealing with the past and confronting the difficult issues 
is a prerequisite for achieving peace in the troubled region. Or, as the late 
Edward Said rightly put it, "there can be no possible reconciliation and no possi- 
ble solution unless these two communities - the Arabs and the Jews, Israelis and 
Palestinians - confront the experience of each in the light of the other" (Said 

More and more scholars today, Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign archaeologists 
working in Palestine/Israel, are realizing that archaeology cannot and should not be 
used for the purposes of exclusion. They are practicing archaeology to further coex- 
istence between societies whose adjacency requires a great deal of tolerance and 
reconciliation. This kind of talk may sound naive and overly optimistic in today's 
inflamed atmosphere, but the reversion to past practices is certainly no alternative. 
It is true that overcoming the present difficulties and filling the vacuum created by 
the absence or indifference of the official bodies is going to be difficult. But the 
good will of individual Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign archaeologists can make a 
big difference. It will create the necessary conditions for peace and revitalize the 
country and the region as a whole. 

Archaeology for the Future 

Believing that practicing archaeology is not a fantasy but rather an essential tool to 
better the lives of present and future generations, a group of Palestinian archaeol- 
ogists and conservationists aided by international colleagues and agencies have been 
working since 1996 to develop a proper strategy to maintain and rehabilitate en- 
dangered world cultural heritage in the Palestinian areas. They formed the Pales- 
tinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE) to protect archaeological sites, 
through public education, public awareness, rehabilitation work, and research. 
PACE believes that archaeologists have a role to play in the cultural and economic 
revival of the country and the region as a whole and works to satisfy the demands 
of the general public, local and international tourists, conservationists, and 
researchers. And perhaps most crucially, it tries to tackle religious and political sen- 
sitivities in the region. 

The organization has made its work relevant by engaging local communities in 
protecting endangered heritage, especially in rural areas. To ensure public integra- 
tion in protection and preservation of historical sites, it concentrates its efforts on 
the youth, women, and educators as well as local authorities. It coordinates its 
efforts with the local communities and forms "Local Committees to Protect Cul- 
tural Heritage" in every village and region. The committees are usually constituted 
of members representing the different local community organizations: village coun- 
cils, youth clubs, women's groups, churches, mosques, and so on. Regular monthly 
meetings are held between the organization's staff and those committees to plan 
and organize activities. Furthermore, PACE makes relentless efforts to expose its 
work to the outside world through publicity and exchange visits to ensure a proper 


evaluation of the work and continued flow of ideas and thoughts. It should be said 
here that PACE is one of several organizations in this field, and I cite its work here, 
rather than any other, because I have first-hand knowledge of it in my capacity as 
director of the organization for several years. The activities of the organization can 
be summarized as follows: 

1 Organizing intensive public awareness campaigns in the various regions of 
the West Bank, and particularly in rural areas, to encourage local communities to 
safeguard world cultural heritage sites and the environment in their regions as a 
future asset for the community and the world at large. Archaeological sites are pro- 
tected regardless of their period, religious, or national connotation. The public 
awareness campaigns usually include a series of lectures, slide shows, films, town 
meetings, and tours led by members of the organization and experts in the field of 
cultural heritage, preservation, and conservation. They cover a wide range of topics 
and periods as well as all kinds of sites including prehistoric ones such as Shuqba 
(Wadi Natuf) and Jericho; biblical sites such as Beitin/Bethel, Tel al-Tal/Ai, al- 
Jib/Gibeon,Tel Balta/Shechem; Roman and Byzantine sites including Jifna/Gophna, 
Atara, and Aboud; as well as Islamic sites such as Nabi Musa, Beit Rima, and Deir 

2 Rehabilitating and vitalizing endangered historical and environmental sites, 
especially in the villages, to serve local communities rather than burden them. Some 
sites have been transformed into public parks or playgrounds to serve the immedi- 
ate needs of the local communities, as in the case of the Ottoman Maqam of Sheikh 
Khaled in Deir Ghasaneh, Ramallah, which was transformed into a public park, 
the Byzantine pool of Beitin (Bethel) which was transformed into a playground for 
the village youth, and the 19th-century building of the Taha family in Beit Rima 
that was turned into a cultural center and public garden. Most of these projects 
were carried out in cooperation with other Palestinian NGOs including RIWAQ, 
the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), PARC, and local village councils. 

3 Producing literature on the sites and villages in the form of brochures, tour 
guide books and booklets, and other promotional materials in different languages. 
The production of this literature is seen by the organization as means to empower 
the local communities and a necessary step to promote the sites as possible tourist 
destinations for local and international tourists. The organization also installs iden- 
tification marks on the sites to attract the attention of the local communities and 
encourage them to preserve those important archaeological places. One of PACE'S 
proud achievements has been the production of the first Palestinian tour guidebook 
of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the first ever of its kind by Palestinians. The book 
has been published in Arabic, English, and Italian, and plans are underway to 
publish it in German, French, and Hebrew. 

4 PACE has also provided and continues to provide short-term job opportu- 
nities for the men and women of the villages on the archaeological sites in an effort 


to ease the alienation between the people and their heritage, reduce the rate of 
unemployment among Palestinians in rural areas, and thus protect archaeological 
sites from vandalism. The people of the villages are hired to clean the sites, build 
stone terraces around them for protection, while others are employed to collect oral 
data in the form of in-depth interviews with the elders of the villages to be used in 
the research and for archival purposes. 

5 PACE promotes traditional Palestinian handicrafts, especially hand-made 
ceramics and embroidery. The later is an exclusively female artistic tradition. We 
encourage women to use their ancient designs in an effort to preserve a precious 
heritage and at the same time support those women who embroider articles for sale 
to make a living. 

PACE'S projects are usually made possible thanks to generous financial contri- 
butions from different American and European non-governmental and govern- 
mental agencies. Although the organization has experienced tremendous difficulties 
in its efforts, it is safe to say that its overall efforts have been successful. Unstable 
political conditions in the country during the current intifada, which has just entered 
its fourth year, has literally crippled the organization and confined us to our imme- 
diate surroundings, the Ramallah area. Conflicts of interest with the Palestinian 
department of antiquities, the Israeli military authorities, and aggressive illegal exca- 
vators has exhausted much of our time and energy. Despite that, PACE'S efforts 
resulted in a remarkable decline in the rate of illegal digging at all sites where the 
organization has been active. The situation of those sites has either improved or at 
least stabilized. 


One of the most affirmative characteristics of the work of archaeologists today is a 
growing awareness of the relevance of archaeology for present and future genera- 
tions. To really make a difference, archaeologists and conservationists should trans- 
form their role into that of facilitators for community-based education and action. 
This methodology has proved itself in the particularly impossible case of Palestine. 
The work of the Palestinian Association of Cultural Exchange, small as it is, has 
succeeded in ensuring genuine public interest in cultural heritage and helped reduce 
the harm wrought by the nationalist practices attributable to traditional archaeol- 
ogy. It has strengthened local communities' abilities to generate income and at the 
same time protect their heritage and environment even in times of war and total 
distress, as persist in the Holy Land these days. 


I'm grateful to my colleagues Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck for the invi- 
tation to participate in this book, and for reviewing the manuscript of this chapter 


and suggesting important comments for its improvement. I would also like to thank 
my colleagues Sandra Scham and Ann Killebrew for their enthusiastic support of 
PACE'S work, which stands at the heart of this article. 


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Archaeology Goes to War 
at the Newsstand 

Susan Pollock 

Stories about archaeology feature with surprising frequency in the news. 1 Apart 
from a passing curiosity, one might reasonably ask why students and practitioners 
of archaeology should pay attention to the reporting of archaeology in the main- 
stream news media. It is all too tempting to dismiss such reports as factually flawed 
or highly simplistic. Ignoring the reporting of archaeology in the news (and other 
forms of media) is, however, a mistake. The news and other media products are the 
primary ways in which non-archaeologists learn and form opinions about archae- 
ology. As such, the media shape the public's overall view of what archaeology is, 
what archaeologists do, and whether and why archaeology has any social value. 
These media-shaped perceptions of archaeology are, in turn, key to people's ideas 
about how archaeological evidence can be interpreted and hence how it may be 
used (as well as abused). To the extent that archaeologists neglect the media's rep- 
resentations of archaeology, we indirectly abdicate responsibility for the ways in 
which our work is used: we are drawn, albeit often unwittingly and unwillingly, into 
the political agendas of others. The apparent innocuousness of many reports on 
archaeology - their appeals to the "disinterested curiosity" of the reader or viewer 
or the communication of what seems to be a "common sense" message - makes 
their ideological impact all the greater. 

In this chapter, I draw on the work of a number of media analysts for general 
insights into news production and consumption before turning to some of the spe- 
cific features of archaeology as a newsworthy topic. 2 I suggest that archaeology's 
apparent power to legitimize present-day collective identities, through particular 
constructions of temporality and notions of ownership, is a central reason why it is 
often drawn upon for contemporary political agendas. These ideas are examined 
and elaborated in two case studies of recent violent events in which archaeology 
figured prominently in the news - in Iraq, in the context of two Gulf wars (1991 
and 2003), and in Afghanistan, with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, fol- 
lowed by the U.S. -led war in 2001. On the basis of these examples, I argue that 


Middle Eastern archaeology has been used to promote a view of the modern Middle 
East and our relations to it that furthers U.S. government policies in times of war 
and diplomatic crises in the region. 

Our Mediated World 

Media are arguably our major source of information about the world and the prin- 
cipal means by which culture is disseminated; they have "colonized culture" 
(Kellner 1995:35). To put it in the starker terms used by the philosopher Gunther 
Anders, when we wish to know what is going on in the world, we go home and turn 
on the television or radio; instead of going to witness events, events visit us in our 
homes through the media (Anders 2002[1956]:1 10). Anders contends that we no 
longer live in the world, but rather simply consume, and what we primarily consume 
are images. As a result, we inhabit a world that is more phantom-like than real, in 
which there is no longer a distinction between reality and its representation (see 
also Baudrillard 1976:110-117; Debord 1977; Appadurai 1991). 

The media "function to amuse, entertain, and inform," but also to impart beliefs 
and values that help to integrate people into social structures (Herman and 
Chomsky 1988:1). They produce the raw materials people use to construct identi- 
ties and help create what Benedict Anderson (1991) has called "imagined com- 
munities": those communities which are neither formed nor held together 
principally through face-to-face interactions. 

Herman and Chomsky (1988) have developed a "propaganda model" of news 
production. They contend that propaganda is the way in which democracies try to 
control people, since they may not do so (outrightly) by force. They identify a set 
of filters that shape the production of news. The first of these filters is the size, 
wealth, and concentration of ownership of the dominant media. Most news pro- 
ducers are profit-making enterprises that base their decisions about how to produce 
the news to a substantial degree on the programs' and products' money-making 
potential. Over the course of the past couple of decades, American media produc- 
ers have been increasingly bought up by large corporate entities in whose interests 
they tend to operate. These include entertainment conglomerates as well as corpo- 
rations that have substantial defense contracts (Bagdikian 2000; McChesney 

A second filter results from the role played by advertising as a principal source 
of income for news media. Media seldom air or publish reports that might produce 
conflict with the interests of their owners or their major advertisers - interests that 
include big business and the state (McChesney 2002:375). 

A third filter identified by Herman and Chomsky is the heavy reliance on "expert 
sources" as the basis for the news. The reliance on experts - especially on the same 
ones over and over - is one of the ways in which media avoid the expenses of inves- 
tigative reporting (Borjesson 2002:13; Hendrix 2002:171). The "experts" used by 
the major news media come predominantly from government and big business, 
once again ensuring that their interests will be served (see also Gans 1979). 


Together, these filters and others result in the marginalization, if not elimination, 
of dissenting voices in the news that reaches most people. 3 

Some analysts have contested the view that the dominant media are principally 
producers of propaganda. Kellner (1995:59) contends that the media help to 
"establish the hegemony of specific political groups and projects," but they are not 
principally propaganda instruments for the state. He suggests that the media do not 
present their readers, viewers, and listeners with a single, coherent ideological posi- 
tion. Rather, as profit-driven money machines, they constantly seek to enlarge their 
audiences, and to do so they try to provide "something for everyone" (Kellner 
1995:93, 212-213). 

The production of a news story is a multi-layered process that involves more 
than one person as well as a variety of interests. Reporters pursue leads, interview 
people, search for "experts," and write the text of a story. But decisions about what 
to publish or broadcast are usually made by editors, who may direct a reporter to 
a story or pull him or her off one, modify the tone of a report and thereby its force 
and intent, or "kill" a story altogether (Hendrix 2002:171). Editors, in turn, are 
subject to control by media owners whose agendas and financial interests may lead 
to rejection or substantial alteration of particular stories. 

The consumption or reception of media products is inextricably linked to their 
production (Lutz and Collins 1993; Kellner 1995; Thompson 1995). In his study 
of American public television, Dornfeld found that producers consider their audi- 
ences to be relatively predictable and spend much "time and energy predicting, 
invoking, and strategizing about how to hold the[ir] attention" (Dornfeld 
2002:254). Kellner claims that audiences may resist meanings conveyed by the 
media and instead rework them to form their own (Kellner 1995:3), a view that 
contrasts pointedly with Anders's argument that media so dominate our under- 
standing and perception of the world that we simply cannot think outside them. 
Although Kellner does not deny that media manipulate the public, he maintains 
that people also rework media products to "produce their own meanings and plea- 
sures out of this material" (Kellner 1995:108; see also Enzensberger 1970). 

I return in the concluding section of this chapter to the debate on the extent to 
which the media expound a single ideological position. But regardless of the posi- 
tion one adopts, a key point in these as well as other critical approaches is that 
media products, like all representations, are invariably misrepresentations, not 
because they are "wrong," but rather because they are always partial. No news story, 
regardless of the best intentions of its creator, can escape this partiality. A call for 
critical analyses of media products is a recognition of the ever-present need to crit- 
ically interrogate all representations, thereby engaging in a critique of ideology. 

Why Does the Past Matter? 

A key question must be posed before analyzing representations of archaeology in 
the news: how is the past, as it is investigated through archaeology, presented to the 
public in order to make it seem to matter in the midst of myriad contemporary 


issues? In other words, if the portrayal of archaeology in the news amounts to more 
than merely stimulating or satisfying curiosity, for what reasons do news producers 
and the news-consuming public see archaeology as relevant to their lives? 

One of the most salient reasons is that the past is widely thought to be key to 
collective identities in the present, a means through which identities can be formed 
and reinforced (for example, Lowenthal 1985; Harke 1993; Abu el-Haj 2001). 
Having a precedent is seen as giving a group the right to exist, a point that has 
figured prominently in discussions of nations and nationalism (Anderson 1991). 
Identities are not constructed in a vacuum but rather in a context of other, already 
existing identities; their establishment and maintenance form an arena of potential 
struggle (Friedman 1992b; Bernbeck and Pollock 1996). The assertion of an iden- 
tity acquires meaning in relation to others: boundaries and differences are the very 
stuff through which identities are defined (Barth 1969). The key role of the past in 
identity formation means that control of the past and its interpretation is a source 
of power in the present. 

One of the central means by which the connections between past and present 
are configured and used to create meaning from archaeological remains is through 
the representation of spatiotemporal relationships. Invariably, the ways we construct 
and narrate understandings of the past carry with them particular conceptualiza- 
tions of time. Time is neither an absolute nor a neutral measure, but rather it is 
subject to a variety of "manipulations" that bear a host of possible meanings (see 
Charvat, this volume). 4 Temporal constructions have particularly powerful political 
implications because they are multiple and open to strategic use. Linear time is a 
way in which we define the content of relations between ourselves and others; we 
construe others in terms of their spatial and temporal distance from us (Fabian 

Time, in particular the past, may be a "means of representing a difference" (de 
Certeau 1988:85), but it may also be used to emphasize similarity. This is a matter 
of nearness and distance but also of the extent to which continuity or discontinu- 
ity between past and present is emphasized. For present purposes, these distinc- 
tions result in a four-part scheme. 

1 Verbiederung/Familiarization: In his searing critique of the effects of media 
culture on contemporary social relations, Gimther Anders emphasizes the famil- 
iarization of past events that makes them seem similar to what we know in the 
present (Anders 2002:117-126). He contends that the omnipresence of media 
products serves to make the whole world, including the past, seem familiar in a 
cheap sort of a way, what he terms Verbiederung. People from the past are spoken 
about as though they were our neighbors, with the present thereby becoming a 
direct and "natural" continuation of the past. In this way the past is effectively done 
away with, because everything is made to seem near and thereby similar to us. 

2 Alienation: Related to the notion of familiarization is the phenomenon of 
alienation {Verfremdung) , from which, according to Anders, Verbiederung comes. 
Alienation makes what is close and familiar in the present appear distant and 


strange. Another version of alienation portrays past events as close in time but with 
a distinct discontinuity to the present. This latter form of alienation is commonly 
found in colonial contexts, with the history of colonial subjects delegitimized by 
denying a connection between them and the history of the land they inhabit. 

3 Ascending anachronisms: The past may also be made to seem familiar by 
using a quite different temporal device. An event may be pushed back in time - 
made distant - but at the same time emphasizing continuity with the present. In 
this way, legitimacy is conferred upon contemporary practices by establishing a long 
tradition and precedent that extend deep into the past. Such a use of time, referred 
to as an ascending anachronism by the historian Alain Delivre (1974:177-183), 
presents the past as distant, yet at the same time it draws on the notion of famil- 
iarity by establishing a connection between a past practice and one known in the 

4 Past as other: In other cases where the distance between past and present 
is accentuated, discontinuity with the present may underscore the strangeness, 
otherness, and radical difference of the past: it becomes a "foreign country" 
(Lowenthal 1985). An emphasis on distance may promote a perception of the past 
as exotic and romantic, or it can contribute to its denigration (Fabian 1983:23-24). 
This temporal construct is often a version of alienation. 

In these varied ways narratives about the past - whether in the news media or 
in academic accounts - make connections to the present in terms that bear a host 
of connotations. It is precisely these sorts of unstated implications of what seems 
to be a neutral measure - time - that help to "naturalize" identity claims that rest 
on understandings of the past. 

The importance of the past to present-day concerns does not by itself explain 
why archaeology is - or in some cases is not - seen by people other than archaeol- 
ogists as an important and valid source of knowledge about the past. While archae- 
ology is a suspect enterprise for some people (many Native Americans, for example) 
and of little import for others, the weight it brings to bear in many appeals to the 
past rests on its materiality. Trouillot (1995:29) has remarked that "history begins 
with bodies and artifacts" (see also Verdery 1999), with the physical traces left 
behind that impose some limits on historical narratives. For many Westerners, ma- 
terial remains impart an impression of objectivity; unlike words, they do not (seem 
to) lie (Harke 1993). 

The materiality of archaeological evidence offers a tangible indication of past 
events and practices, and physical existence of archaeological remains is not 
easily disputed. Materiality is a facet of archaeology that is often alluring to non- 
archaeologists. It is what draws people to museum exhibits even in this "age of 
mechanical reproduction" - the perception that old objects that were not industri- 
ally produced have an "aura" or authenticity (Benjamin 1968[1936]). Despite this 
nostalgic allure, archaeological objects are regularly drawn into commoditized 
transactions in art and antiquities markets. 


News of the Ancient Near East 

I turn now to two case studies in which I examine reporting on archaeology of the 
Middle East in the print news media. I concentrate principally upon U.S. media, 
supplemented by some materials from other English-language sources. I will con- 
sider the ways in which archaeology is drawn upon, through appeals to notions of 
identity, temporality, and ownership, in the context of reporting on and shaping 
public opinion about contemporary world events. My analysis focuses on readings 
of the articles themselves. 

War and archaeology in Iraq 

The first case centers on reporting about archaeology in the contexts of Gulf War 
I (1991) and II (2003). 5 In both wartime situations, there was a marked increase 
in reports about the archaeology of Iraq in comparison to their frequency at other 
times. 6 Why did the print media devote so much attention to archaeology in war 
time? The sheer fact of its emphasis in the context of major political and military 
conflict is a signal that archaeology was employed to help support political agendas. 
Otherwise, one would expect it to be evoked just as often to promote constructive, 
peacetime goals. 

Close readings of newspaper articles on archaeology in Iraq show that four 
positions were taken with regard to the past and its relationship to the present. 
In the first of these, the antiquity of Iraq's past and its continuity with the 
Western world today were foregrounded, an approach that used ascending anachro- 
nisms. The second position relied on a form of alienation in which modern Iraqis 
were divorced from their past in an implied devolution from greatness to barbar- 
ity. A third version considered Iraqis, as embodied in the person of Saddam 
Hussein, to follow closely in the footsteps of the Mesopotamian past, but solely in 
terms of the most negative features of that history. Finally, in the wake of undeni- 
able damage to ancient monuments, sites, and artifacts after the first Gulf War but 
especially in the aftermath of the second one, reporters were confronted with a 
conundrum that many seem to have had difficulty resolving. In some cases, this 
produced a combination of confusion and denial; in others, anger and critique 
edged to the fore. 

Newspaper reports on the archaeology of Iraq in the context of the two Gulf 
Wars made the case that it was very important. A crucial reason for its salience that 
appeared repeatedly in the news was that Iraq's ancient past is related to American 
identity: Mesopotamia - more or less the area of present-day Iraq - is understood 
as the "cradle of [Western] civilization." 

In an approach made explicit in archaeology by V. Gordon Childe (1928), but 
one with much deeper historical roots, Western civilization is viewed as the histor- 
ical and cultural heir of the "great civilizations" of the ancient Near East. Zainab 
Bahrani (1998) has recently argued that a particular, constructed Mesopotamian 


identity has been historically a part of- indeed, almost a requirement for -Western 
narratives about the progress of civilization (see also Van de Mieroop 1997). To 
bolster this purported connection, which transcends substantial distances in time 
and space, requires a true sleight-of-hand. The Mesopotamian past is familiarized 
by accentuating continuity - demonstrating that that past contains the antecedents 
of much of what we today prize in Western civilization - and also, in another sense, 
distanced by being shown to be very old. These ancient roots contribute to the 
greatness and legitimacy of "our modern civilization," in a phenomenon referred 
to by Bruce Trigger (1984) as "imperialist archaeology." 

In newspaper accounts connections between the Iraqi past and us were asserted 
in a variety of ways. A common means was by identifying Mesopotamia as "the 
cradle of civilization." Sometimes the connection to the West was made even more 
specific: "While President Bush describes Iraq as the 'axis of evil' and the lair of a 
defiant Saddam Hussein, young American military cadets are learning that it is also 
the cradle of Western civilization" (Miniclier 2003 :E1, emphasis added). 

This strategy was made explicit through appeals to "firsts," those inventions cred- 
ited to ancient Mesopotamia and also judged basic to our modern civilization: "the 
place where man first took the step from village culture to high civilization in about 
4000 B.C." (Honan 1991:Arts Sec, 13). "The Mesopotamians were the first to 
record their thoughts in writing, the first to divide the day into 24 hours, the first 
to eat off ceramic plates" (Solomon 2003:Sec.6, 15). 

Biblical connections were also emphasized. Ur was described as "the legendary 
birthplace of Abraham" (Longworth 1991:9), and mention was made of "an oil 
refinery at Basra, [that] now occupies a purported site of the Garden of Eden" 
(Ringle 1991:C1). Sometimes biblical referents were linked to more secular ones: 
"Troops that invaded from the south crossed territory called the cradle of civiliza- 
tion and traditionally considered the site of the Garden of Eden" (Witham 2003) . 

In these ways, readers were encouraged to recall, or form, a sense of identifica- 
tion with the ancient past of Iraq. From there, it was only a short step to develop- 
ing ideas about ownership of that past. In the context of the first Gulf War, in 
particular, the remains of ancient civilizations in Iraq were to be understood as pos- 
sessions of "humanity" at least as much as of the inhabitants of present-day Iraq 
(Petit 1991A8; MacLeod 2003). 7 In this respect, archaeology in Iraq is depicted 
in much the same way as oil, the other resource commonly associated with that 
country in the West - as assets that have international owners and interests. Just as 
oil is crucial to the operation of American civilization, so, too, is the archaeology of 
Iraq to be understood as part of American heritage (Pollock and Lutz 
1994:269-270). A key difference is that oil and the profits it generates are the 
genuine interest of powerful businesses and the U.S. government, whereas archae- 
ology is wielded principally as an ideological tool used to support actions that 
sustain these oil (and other) interests. 

In some accounts modern Iraqis were implied to have descended to barbarous 
depths in comparison to their glorious ancestors. Surely, therefore, they could not 
be the rightful heirs of this past. A NewYork Times editorial proclaimed, "The Cradle, 


Ironically, of Civilization" (Editorial 1991:A30), whereas a slightly more subtle 
version appeared in a description of the site of Ur: "The tales of death and destruc- 
tion contrasted sharply with the quiet dignity and grace of the ancient ruins of 
Ur, ... It was a cultured Euphrates River port then, in 4000 B.C." (Drogin 

Newspaper accounts occasionally constructed another relationship between past 
and present in which modern-day Iraqis are the heirs of ancient Mesopotamia, but 
of the barbaric and aggressive aspects rather than of the great achievements. It is 
therefore no surprise that modern Iraqis act so badly: "Many of the ancient sites 
are ruins today because of past wars. Their construction and their destruction are 
proof that neither warfare nor egomania are new in the region" (Longworth 

Although each of these approaches highlighted a different set of relationships 
between past and present, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A construct 
that emphasizes Western inheritance of the glories of ancient Mesopotamia does 
not rule out the possibility that Iraqis inherited the brutal aspects of that past. 
However, at certain times it became difficult for journalists to maintain these con- 
structs without producing a contradictory discourse. 

Overall, newspaper accounts at the times of both Gulf Wars relied to a signifi- 
cant extent on equations of the ancient Mesopotamian past with a heritage that is 
part of contemporary Western civilization. While this approach made clear why 
readers should care about Iraq's past, it also posed a potential conundrum: if that 
past was really such an important part of our heritage, how were we to reconcile 
that fact with U.S. bombing and invasion of the country, which posed risks to its 
material remains? As one journalist wrote, "What does it mean that, if war breaks 
out, we're almost certain to bomb it [Basra, supposed location of the Garden of 
Eden]?" (Ringle 1991:C1). Although some critical questions were raised, most 
reports sought to answer them in ways that did not detract from support of the 
American-led wars. 

At the time of the 1991 Gulf War, journalists tended to adopt the position that 
because Iraqi heritage is ancestral to Western civilization, it was incumbent upon 
us to ensure its preservation. In the face of Saddam's willingness to jeopardize this 
heritage - most commonly asserted by claims that Iraqi military installations were 
located near important sites and museums (Pollock and Lutz 1994:278-279) - U.S. 
military damage would be either unavoidable or the lesser evil. Some journalists 
referred to U.S. military officials' claims that they were doing their best to mini- 
mize "collateral damage" to archaeological sites, although the same reports often 
noted that archaeologists evinced skepticism (Cooke 1991). Articles that appeared 
in the aftermath of the war frequently contained statements by archaeologists that 
military damage seemed to have been minimal, but that the main harm was caused 
by looting and agricultural projects that took place after the war. A few reports went 
on to suggest that the UN.-imposed economic sanctions were at least partly respon- 
sible for creating the conditions in which looting flourished and massive new irri- 
gation works were necessary (Saltus 1992). 


Journalists' approaches differed in some notable respects in the second Gulf War. 
The relatively small number of articles on the archaeology of Iraq in U.S. newspa- 
pers in the months preceding and especially during the first weeks of the invasion 
implies a reluctance on the part of newspaper journalists or editors to raise the issue 
of archaeology in the "cradle of civilization." Perhaps this was a reflection of the 
very limited international support for the U.S. government's position, along with 
considerable domestic opposition to a war: invoking an issue that could easily 
become a double-edged sword - a war that might damage "our" heritage, as many 
archaeologists argued vocally in the months prior to the invasion - may have seemed 
too risky. The newly created policy of "embedding" reporters in military units was 
an explicit attempt to ensure that they would feel themselves "part of the team" 
and may well have curtailed certain kinds of reports, whether due to lack of oppor- 
tunity to investigate particular kinds of stories or an unwillingness to broach touchy 
subjects (Andersen 2003). The fact that archaeological remains had suffered from 
Gulf War I, even if indirectly, may have lessened editors' and journalists' appetite 
for engaging with archaeology a second time in a war-time context. Some of the 
reports that did appear in the U.S. press were decidedly ambivalent, mentioning 
damages incurred as a result of Gulf War I (Solomon 2003; Wilford 2003) 
as well as the provisions of the Hague conventions for protection of cultural prop- 
erty during war (Cotter 2003; Neuffer 2003). One such report mentioned 
Mesopotamia's purported legacy of aggression, while also pointing to the contra- 
dictions posed by invading such a country: " [F]reshmen cadets at the U.S. Air Force 
Academy in Colorado Springs are receiving a thought-provoking lecture from their 
history teacher: 'President Bush speaks of the need to "defend civilization," ' Lt. 
Col. Dave Kirkham tells his students. 'Then I point out the irony of defending civ- 
ilization against the cradle of civilization,' adds Kirkham" (Miniclier 2003:E1). 

Other stories emphasized promises by U.S. military officials to do their best to 
avoid damage to sites and monuments (Witham 2003) or claimed that any destruc- 
tion that resulted would be Saddam's fault (Glick 2003). 

With the looting of the Iraq Museum in the second week of April, however, 
reports on archaeological topics skyrocketed into headlines around the world. Jour- 
nalists were confronted with the specter of American complicity in the wholesale 
destruction of what they - and many archaeologists - had long construed as a part 
of their own past (Pollock 2003). The story of the Iraq Museum was told in a variety 
of ways, ranging from outright anger to disbelief and denial. No longer was there 
an easy or obvious way to reconcile the presumed good intentions of U.S. military 
and political leaders with a concern for the material remains of "our" past. Perhaps 
unsurprisingly, it was at this time that a significant number of articles appeared in 
which the archaeology of Iraq was deemed to be principally the heritage of modern 
Iraqis - so we were not destroying our past after all. It is still too soon to tell how 
journalists will ultimately seek to deal with this dilemma. 

I turn now to a second case in which archaeology has appeared prominently in 
the print news media in recent times: Afghanistan. As we will see, the themes 
emphasized and the ways archaeology was constructed as newsworthy are distinct 
in a number of ways from those highlighted in the Iraqi case. 


The Buddhas of Bamiyan and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan 

In March 200 1 , following several weeks of threats and international attention, the 
Taliban government of Afghanistan ordered that two monumental statues of 
Buddha in the remote Bamiyan Valley be blown up. The incident, as well as 
the destruction of anthropomorphic artifacts in the National Museum in Kabul, 
provoked an international outcry that was echoed for weeks in the news 
media. Afghanistan surged once again into the headlines following the September 
1 1 attacks in New York and Washington and remained front-page news through 
the remainder of the year, as the U.S. prepared and carried out a war to 
depose the Taliban government and attempt to rid the country of members of Al- 

Stories about archaeology in Afghanistan proliferated during these periods, first 
when the Taliban government carried out its threat to destroy the two monumen- 
tal statues of the Buddha. A second peak occurred during the U.S.-led war that 
resulted in the toppling of the Taliban government. 8 

Already before the destruction of the Buddhas, the U.S. was heading on a col- 
lision course with the Taliban. Similarly to Saddam Hussein, the Taliban had 
previously enjoyed substantial, if tacit, U.S. government support (Rashid 2000: 
157-182). As a result, turning them into a despised and illegitimate government 
required a case to be made that they should be (re) construed as the archenemy. 9 
Once again, archaeology was mobilized in the press in a variety of ways to support 
this process. 

In the case of archaeology in Afghanistan, however, reporters faced a problem 
that had not confronted them in the Iraqi case. Whereas Mesopotamia was almost 
instantly recognizable as "the cradle of civilization" and appeals to biblical refer- 
ents made the connections even clearer, for most members of the Western public - 
and apparently for journalists as well - Central Asia was unfamiliar territory and 
lacked obvious connections to the West. Indeed, most Westerners had probably 
never heard of the Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley prior to their final destruction, 
an act which the Taliban deliberately broadcast widely (Colwell-Chanthaphonh 
2003:93). There were no convenient biblical and only a few other links that 
reporters could easily draw upon to promote a feeling of identification among an 
American reading public. As a result, the strategies used to try to make the archae- 
ology of Afghanistan newsworthy - if it was not connected to us, why should we 
care? - were different from those employed in the two Gulf wars. 

One approach emphasized the exoticness of the Afghan past, using, where pos- 
sible, referents that could be expected to evoke some degree of familiarity. Men- 
tions of Alexander the Great and the Silk Road were frequent. Some reports focused 
on Afghanistan as a crossroads between "high cultures" to the West (Greek and 
Roman) and East (Indian and Chinese), thereby partaking of their greatness but 
also subtly implying that Afghanistan had no cultural existence of its own (cf . Flood 
2002:653): "The two Buddhas were hewn with the classical features of all sub- 
continental Buddhas, but the figures were draped in Greek robes. The combination 


represented the unique fusion of classical Indian and Central Asian art with Hel- 
lenism, introduced by the armies of Alexander the Great" (Squitieri 2002). 

A second approach involved a variety of strategies that used archaeology and 
ancient monuments to cast the Taliban in a bad light. Some reports contrasted the 
ostensible peacefulness and calm of Buddhism - represented by the two monu- 
mental statues that were demolished - with the supposed belligerence of Islam. The 
religious stereotypes implied by such a contrast were not articulated directly but 
kept rather at the level of insinuation: "'Central Asia then was an example of tol- 
erance,' says Angelina Drushina ... 'It was only later that tolerance was destroyed.' 
Like the Taliban who came after them, the Arab invaders who swept through Tajik- 
istan and Afghanistan would accept no deviation from their own brand of religion" 
(Toronto Star 2001:Business, 1). 

Most newspaper accounts included some statement about whose cultural heri- 
tage was being destroyed or should be preserved. The number of articles portray- 
ing the cultural heritage of Afghanistan as belonging to Afghans was approximately 
equal to the number that claimed it to be the property of all humanity. A small 
minority of reports suggested that Afghanistan's archaeological remains belonged 
to both Afghans and the rest of the world or proposed that it was the heritage of 
the inhabitants of the Bamiyan Valley (in the specific case of the Buddhas), Eurasia, 
Greece, or the region around Afghanistan. Most narratives that constructed the cul- 
tural heritage as specifically Afghan appeared around the time of the destruction of 
the Bamiyan Buddhas. Stories either pitted the Taliban against "real" Afghans - the 
former ready to destroy the heritage of the latter - or lumped all Afghans together 
as a group that did not know enough to preserve the heritage of a portion of its 
population: "Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taliban movement ... is waging war on 
the country's cultural heritage, blowing up treasured statues from Afghanistan's pre- 
Islamic past" (Editorial 2001). In this way the Taliban were depicted as barbaric, 
in that they willfully destroyed the country's heritage and in so doing sought to 
create a distinct break between (a part of) the past and the present. 

During the U.S. -led war, most reports treated artifacts and monuments from 
Afghanistan as humanity's heritage. At a time when nearly the whole world was 
supposed to be at war against the Taliban government, newspaper readers were 
encouraged to unite around a concern for a heritage that belonged to all human- 
ity. As in the Gulf Wars, this strategy had the potential to backfire, if U.S. forces 
were seen to have damaged humanity's heritage. In anticipation of such possible 
claims, reports assigned very different motivations for the destruction of monu- 
ments and artifacts depending upon the party that caused it. When attributable to 
the Taliban, destruction was regularly portrayed as willful (compare the Iraqi case 
in which Saddam and his associates are claimed to have endangered archaeologi- 
cal remains out of callous disinterest). In contrast, damage resulting from the U.S.- 
led war was described as accidental, a form of regrettable but unavoidable 
"collateral damage," and as less destructive than that wrought by the Taliban: 
"Archaeologists say they are concerned that intensive bombing could destroy a 
mosque or other site in one of the cities. But nothing, they said, could compare to 
the damage already done by people in the country" (Cook 2001:C1). In either case, 


whether heritage was claimed to be Afghan or humanity's, the resulting narrative 
served to portray the barbarity of the Taliban who intentionally demolished it. 

The theme of cultural heritage and the ramifications of destruction, looting, and 
sale of antiquities on the preservation of that heritage pervaded many newspaper 
reports on archaeology in Afghanistan. With rare exceptions, the reports treated cul- 
tural heritage as specifically material - artifacts and monuments - thus disappear- 
ing if the material items themselves were destroyed: 10 "[S]ince 1979, when the 
Soviets invaded, fighting and looting across the country has been erasing world 
history, entire chapters at a time" (Cook 2001 :C1). 

This nearly exclusive equation of heritage with material objects is not borne out 
in standard usages of the term. Dictionary definitions mention property but also 
"something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor: inheritance, legacy" as 
well as "tradition" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary) . International 
agreements concerning the treatment of cultural heritage give considerable weight 
to material remains but are not limited solely to tangible items. Articles 1 and 2 of 
the 1970 UNESCO convention on prevention of illicit transfer of cultural prop- 
erty, for example, discuss cultural property, a part of cultural heritage, as that which 
"is specifically designated by each State as being of importance for archaeology, 
prehistory, history, literature, art or science . . . ," a list that extends well beyond 
material items. 

By tacitly equating heritage with (ancient) artifacts and monuments, newspaper 
reports turn the discussion of damage to Afghanistan's past into a matter of tangi- 
ble property and ownership. 11 The material remains stand in contrast to intangi- 
bles, which are often thought to be barred from possession or not subject to 
exclusive ownership, a characterization more typical of Mesopotamia in its guise as 
the "cradle of civilization." By framing stories in terms of property and ownership, 
the unfamiliar - archaeology of Afghanistan - was placed in the familiar territory 
of commodities and capitalism. 

When cultural heritage is treated as consisting of material objects and material 
objects are understood as things that can be owned, it is an easy step to view heri- 
tage as a commodity like any other that can be bought and sold. However, acqui- 
escing to the implicit equation of artifacts with commodities meant that reporters 
could not easily condemn the sale of antiquities, an enterprise of dubious legality 
at best. Although news reports did not directly condone the sale of antiquities, few 
gave it the harsh treatment reserved for reports of the destruction of antiquities: 
"The destruction of the Buddhas was the most vivid strike of the Taliban's jihad 
against Afghanistan's textured culture and history" (Squitieri 2002: 10D). It might 
be concluded that while the sale of cultural heritage is not really a crime, the 
destruction of it - so that it can never be sold or possessed - is. 

The tacit acceptance of archaeological objects as commodities contrasts with 
reporters' tendency to personify the artifacts and monuments they discussed: "The 
destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan was as spectacular as it was devastating. 
First, soldiers sprayed bullets at the statues - one of which, at 178 feet tall, stood 
higher than any other Buddha in the world. Mortally but not fatally wounded, the 
statues hung on" (Buckholtz 2001:E1). 


Material remains were written about as if they had emotions and could be hurt, 
reminiscent of reporters' use of a metaphor of rape in the context of the Iraqi inva- 
sion of Kuwait (Pollock and Lutz 1994:279). By attributing emotional qualities to 
objects, journalists effectively treated them as aura-bearing (Benjamin 1968), an 
oddly paradoxic stance toward objects that were also accepted as commodities. 
Implied in the personifications is that these were not merely inanimate objects - it 
was emphatically not that "All we are breaking are stones" as a speaker for Mullah 
Omar is reported to have declared (Moore 2001:A1) - but rather animate beings 
with feelings that were sometimes portrayed as more meaningful than those of 
Afghan people themselves. The depiction of the destruction of "objects with emo- 
tions" becomes one more way of constructing and reinforcing notions of the bar- 
barity of the Taliban, in distinct contrast to the beauty and peace described as 
radiating from the Buddhas. 


News reports about archaeology are affected by many of the same factors that shape 
the production of other news stories in contemporary U.S. society. Although the 
reasons that reports on archaeology of the Middle East appear in the news are not 
limited solely to the connections that can be made to contemporary politics, it is 
striking that such stories proliferate at times of political crisis. At those times, when 
U.S. national interests are perceived to be at stake, the mainstream media regularly 
contribute to the mobilization of public opinion, almost always in support of gov- 
ernment causes (see above; also Herman and Chomsky 1988; Kellner 1992; 
Chomsky and Barsamian 2001:47-50). Archaeology is one of the many domains 
through which public opinion about the wisdom of interventions in foreign 
countries is molded. Of course, in the broader scheme of things, reports about 
archaeology were just one small part of the total coverage of Iraq or Afghanistan 
in the context of mobilization for the Gulf Wars and the invasion of Afghanistan. 
These wars would undoubtedly have happened even if no mention had ever been 
made in the press of ancient civilizations and biblical connections of sites in Iraq 
or the destruction of the Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley. Yet, stories about archae- 
ology contributed to the overall efforts to construct U.S. public opinion in favor of 

Appeals to the importance of archaeological remains are not triggered automat- 
ically in any situation in which they are endangered, but rather specifically where 
powerful interests are perceived to be directly at stake. During the Iran-Iraq war 
(1980-88), not a single article that concerned itself with possible war-related 
damage to archaeological remains in either country appeared in the Washington Post 
or New York Times, 12 newspapers that frequently reported on archaeology in the 
Middle East during the Gulf and Afghan wars. 

To serve political agendas, regardless of whose, news reports featuring archaeol- 
ogy must draw connections between an apparently esoteric study of the past and 
current affairs. As we have seen, temporal and spatial metaphors are important in 


this endeavor, helping to shape our understandings of and relationships to the past. 
They were employed in the examples considered here in a variety of ways. The 
notion that Western civilization as well as "Western" religions (Christianity and 
Judaism) are rooted in the ancient Near East runs deeply in the minds of most edu- 
cated people in the West. 13 This underlying belief made it easy for reporters to link 
the archaeology of Iraq to contemporary political issues and identities, whether by 
claiming the great achievements of the Mesopotamian past as our legacy or con- 
necting the modern government of Iraq to the most aggressive and unappealing 
aspects of that past. Either way, military intervention in Iraq was thereby "justified" 
in order to preserve the material remains of "our" heritage and wrest humanity's 
(read, the West's) legacy from the hands of tyrants who would misuse or jeopardize 
its preservation. 

Journalists seem to have found it more difficult to construct direct ancestral ties 
between the Afghan past and the contemporary West. This may have been in large 
part because the prominent, historically attested religions in Afghanistan have been 
Buddhism and Islam rather than Christianity or Judaism. For the most part jour- 
nalists highlighted the exoticness and difference of Afghanistan's past and its status 
as a crossroads of other, more familiar "great civilizations." That past was often cast 
as part of world heritage, offering a reason for the U.S. to intervene to preserve its 
material remains. In other instances, its destruction was treated as principally a 
problem for Afghans, whose history and culture were to be understood as deci- 
mated by the barbarity of their own people, the Taliban. 

Despite the variety of different rhetorical strategies used in the news articles, they 
nearly all worked to support the same hegemonic position - demonization of the 
declared enemy (Saddam, the Taliban) and therefore justification for a U.S. -led war. 
The appearance of diversity in the stories could lull readers into thinking that they 
were reading diverse perspectives when in fact the underlying message was the 
same. One means by which this is accomplished is by pitting "experts" against each 
other in collections of quotes (or in talk shows), but ensuring that the disagree- 
ments among them are actually trivial. It could be argued that Kellner's (1995:93) 
contention that the media do not present a single, consistent ideological position 
is rather an obfuscation, another filter in Herman and Chomsky's set of mecha- 
nisms that shape the news as propaganda. 

As archaeologists what positions or actions might we take in response to the way 
our discipline is presented for public consumption in the media? An important con- 
sideration here is the use of the past in general and archaeology in particular to 
create and reinforce identities and identification with a particular past. References 
to archaeology in news stories frequently draw on connections between material 
remains of the past and identities in the present. Over the past few decades, archae- 
ologists have also reengaged with questions of identity, often taking the position 
that archaeological evidence should be used - invariably selectively - to bolster 
identity-based interests of indigenous and other disenfranchised groups. But 
archaeological evidence marshaled in support of identity claims can also be 
employed to engender support for political agendas that many archaeologists may 
not wish to embrace, as these analyses of archaeology in the news have shown. 


Identity claims need not invariably support the status quo. The past can be used 
to demonstrate continuity and precedent but also, in a more liberatory fashion, to 
imagine possibilities for change and a different future (Harke 1993; Sommer 1993; 
Scham 2001; cf. Meskell 1998). Nonetheless, using identity as a basis for a vision 
of change often carries with it problems of essentialism and the static assumptions 
that lie at the heart of many concepts of identity (Bernbeck and Pollock 1996). 
Identity claims are necessarily selective and partial, and from an "objectivist" posi- 
tion they can be critiqued and deconstructed (Friedman 1992a, 1992b). Friedman 
warns us, however, that practices of identity are part of the basic fabric through 
which people constitute their senses of self; in that respect, they are no trivial 
matters to be lightly demolished with the wave of an academic hand. Can we find 
ways to counteract the pernicious uses of the past for contemporary identity build- 
ing while at the same time not retreating into an academic impasse in which our 
principal "achievement" is to explode the "myths" of identity by which others live 
(cf. Shepherd 2002)? 

Sommer (2000:138) has proposed that we should seek to emphasize "the 
strangeness of the past, the wonder and the horror" of it. Such a proposal may 
go some way to avoiding identification with the past, but it also runs the risk of 
turning past peoples into foils for contemporary stereotypes and bigotries. An alter- 
native is for archaeologists to focus on exposing the interests that are served by the 
selective uses of the past in contemporary identity building, including in media por- 
trayals. Such an approach would point up the partiality of these depictions, high- 
lighting how particular interests structure specific uses of the past. By exposing 
interests, one does not attack a collectivity's existential basis but rather lays 
open the grounds on which a group claims to be distinctive and, in many cases, 

Reports about the archaeology of the Middle East are likely to evoke for 
most non-specialist readers the daily images of the contemporary Middle East 
which flood the news media, a place that is regularly portrayed as one of violent 
and persistent conflict, of virulent hatreds and rampant anti-Americanism. 
A reporter or editor working on a story on the ancient Near East may draw, 
implicitly or explicitly, on these prevalent images as a way to create relevance and 
hence newsworthiness for his or her story, or she or he may seek to mark a clear 
division between past and present. Either way, no story about archaeology in the 
ancient Near East will escape comparison to contemporary events, attitudes, and 
politics. Archaeology is never innocent, and its evocation in the news is always part 
of a larger story and a larger agenda with which archaeologists would do well to 


I would like to thank Reinhard Bernbeck, Maria das Dores Cruz, and Norman 
Yoffee for their careful, critical readings of previous drafts of this chapter. They 
helped greatly to sharpen and clarify my arguments. 



1 As an example: in a one-year period from March 2002 to February 2003, over 100 arti- 
cles dealing in some way with archaeology appeared in the New York Times and more 
than 50 in the Los Angeles Times. 

2 The media includes far more than news. My focus in this paper is, however, on those 
media products that can be labeled news - recognizing that the distinction between news 
and entertainment has become increasingly blurred - and specifically print news. A 
detailed consideration of archaeology in television broadcasts would provide an impor- 
tant supplement to this focus on the print media, but it is beyond the scope of this paper. 

3 Herman and Chomsky (1988:26-31) identify two additional filters which I do not 
discuss here. 

4 These "manipulations" of time are in one sense unavoidable: anyone engaged in writing 
history must, for example, choose a (necessarily arbitrary) beginning point, which will 
exert a profound effect on the resulting narrative (Said 1978:15-25; de Certeau 

5 This expands upon work I began with Catherine Lutz on the 1991 Gulf War (Pollock 
and Lutz 1994). 

6 A keyword-based search of the Lexis-Nexis database of major newspapers for the eight- 
month period from August 2, 1990 (the date of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait) to March 
31, 1991 (shortly after the official end of the war) yielded 49 articles in U.S. newspa- 
pers dealing with the archaeology of Iraq. Most of these appeared in the months of 
January through March 1991 when the war took place. In contrast, during the eight- 
month period preceding the invasion of Kuwait (December 1989 though July 1990), 
only nine stories about archaeology in Iraq were published in the same sample of news- 
papers. A similar, but not identical, pattern is evident for Gulf War II: the number of 
articles rose noticeably in the two months prior to the war's beginning (January and 
February 2003) although it remained relatively small, but declined during the first few 
weeks of the war, only to reach an unprecedented peak after the looting of the Iraq 
Museum (Pollock 2003). 

7 The focus on "humanity" may have been a diplomatic attempt to avoid the appearance 
of claiming a direct connection with the U.S. 

8 A Lexis-Nexis search for news articles in the English-language print media for the period 
from January 1, 1995 (the year in which the Taliban began moving into Afghanistan) 
through September 13, 2002 (just after the first anniversary of 9/11) yielded maximally 
four per year from 1995 to 2000. In March of 2001 alone, 16 articles appeared - almost 
all to do with the destruction of the Buddha statues. In October through December of 
that year, during the U.S. -led war, 10 articles concerned with archaeological topics 
appeared in these papers. 

9 The situations were dissimilar insofar as the U.S. government had been moving for some 
time toward a new position on the Taliban, whereas the estrangement from Saddam 
occurred abruptly after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. 

10 On conflicting notions of cultural heritage on the parts of Westerners and the Taliban, 
see Bernbeck (2003). 

1 1 The notion and implications of ownership are important areas for further study (cf. 
Moustakas 1989; Napier 2002). 

12 This is based on a Lexis-Nexis search for articles on the archaeology of these countries 
during this time period. 


13 By making this statement in this way, I do not wish to deny that there are connections 
between the ancient Near East and the contemporary Western tradition. Rather, the 
issues are twofold: that there are also connections between people living in the Middle 
East today and that past and that our history must be understood as tied to much of 
the rest of the world as well, whether we wish to acknowledge those links or not. 


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The Past as Fact and 
Fiction: From Historical 
j Novels to Novel Histories 

Reinhard Bernbeck 

Once upon a time, when king Nimrod had all newborn children in his kingdom slain, 
Abraham was born in a roomy cave on the steep slope of the rocky mountain below 
Nimrod's castle near Harran. Abraham's mother hid the boy, but Nimrod the hunter 
found the infant in his cradle. He tore the baby from his mother's hands, went up to 
the castle and, by means of two columns erected on the fortress, catapulted the small 
body into a hot furnace at the foot of the abyss. At this moment, God saved Abraham. 
He transformed the blazing fire into cool, clear water and the burning embers into 
carp. King Nimrod's daughter Zelikha jumped after Abraham from the walls of the 
castle, and God let her land in a basin with a gushing spring. 

Residents of Urfa in southeastern Turkey relate stories such as this one about 
the mountain in their town, the castle on top, the cave, columns, and carp ponds 
in the city center. The fish and the cave are sacred places. Three mosques have 
been built in the vicinity and pilgrims come from afar to pray in this "city of 

Archaeologists have found that a spring already attracted groups in the aceramic 
Neolithic when a "Pre-pottery Neolithic B" settlement existed nearby, with dense 
deposits of lithic blades and traces of fireplaces. The two columns with Corinthian 
capitals on the mountain were erected during the reign of the Roman emperor 
Gordian III between 240 and 242 C.E. In the ninth century C.E., the fortress walls 
were built, and in the early 13th century, the Khalil ur- Rahman mosque was con- 
structed at the edge of the spring. 

In the Urfa story, human imagination has turned extant natural phenomena such 
as the cave and spring as well as cultural monuments from the past into a dramatic, 
internally consistent story. The bad in the person of Nimrod attempts to triumph 
over virtue, but celestial power saves the good - in the person of Abraham - at the 
last moment. Fire turns into water, wood into lively carp. The patriarch Abraham 
overcomes the heathen Nimrod. Ethical contrasts are woven into a story about 


well-known personalities and sensually experienced environment. The rising narra- 
tive tension up to its "happy end" never fails to excite its audience. 

Archaeology offers only an alienated, impersonal history. The dissecting gaze and 
the analytic sharpness cut off the possibility for a zestful narration: the PPNB lithic 
blades sticking out of a profile in the city center only inspire archaeologists. 
Not much is to be seen, and one must go to the museum in order to acquire 
the necessary contextual archaeological knowledge. For Urfa's residents, neither 
the museum nor information about the castle's building phases are points of 

Despite their scientific character, archaeological interpretations are by no means 
close to "reality." If, for instance, we talk about the Neolithic as a time of "revolu- 
tionary" innovations, this hardly matches the self-understanding of Neolithic 
people, although their views should be included in any history that pretends to be 
realistic. Our interpretations are based on knowledge of thousands of years of later 
development, which were beyond the horizon of PPNB people in the Urfa region. 

Archaeological discourse and local fables are formally not so distinct as they may 
seem at first sight. Both are characterized by a mixture of facticity and fictitious 
elements. But where do the differences lie, and should we as archaeologists insist 
on their importance? In order to address such problems, I examine a Western lit- 
erary category located at the intersection of these two styles of narration, historical 
novels. I want to pursue two questions. What can we learn about our own ways of 
producing narratives by considering how authors of fiction conceive of the past? 
Furthermore, could insights from analysis of historical fiction help us to concep- 
tualize archaeological narratives in new ways? I begin with a discussion of the rela- 
tionship between archaeology, the past, prehistory, and history. 

Creating Meaning 

All forms of representation of the past, from catalogs to interpretive articles and 
historical syntheses, contain "data," isolated pieces from a past that do not, however, 
carry "history" within themselves. It is the relations archaeologists and historians 
create between data that produce meaning. As archaeologists or historians, we sep- 
arate past phenomena, objects and texts alike, and rejoin them according to spe- 
cific preferences (Koselleck 1979:204; Trouillot 1995:26, 48). The result is a 
discourse about elapsed time, recounted from a particular viewpoint: a linear nar- 
rative. Archaeologists may use visual aids in the presentation of their narratives, but 
the core of their works remains linear and textual. Therefore, I use the more encom- 
passing notions "historian" and "history" when I speak of the problems both archae- 
ologists and historians face in their representations of the past. 

By now, it is probably clear that I advocate a breakdown of boundaries between 
archaeology and history. I understand history and archaeology as activities whose 
most general goal is to give an aggregation of sources from the past meaning it did 
not possess. History as res gestae has neither meaning, purpose, causality, nor coher- 
ence (Lessing 1983[1919]). The latter are all created by historians, based on their 


own interests and prejudices (Koselleck 1997:87-88). It is irrelevant whether we 
deal with sources from "prehistoric" or "historical" times. Periods from which we 
have texts do not produce different kinds of meanings than those without texts 
(Certeau 1988:65). The only distinction in the presence of texts is the greater quan- 
tity and variability of "data" that have to be woven together into a meaningful nar- 
rative. The amount of data may become difficult for a single researcher to handle 
and lead to specializations within historical research, such as the division into 
archaeology and philology. 

In the creation of meaning, the loading of constructed facticity with fictitious 
elements remains a contentious subject (Riisen 1994:20-21). Should we minimize 
the fictitious portion of history, and if so, how? Can the production of a meaning- 
ful narrative be anchored in an explicit methodology? These problems have led to 
two fundamentally divergent solutions in archaeology. In North American archae- 
ology of the 1960s, analogies between the "ethnographic present" and an archae- 
ological past were seen as a methodologically sound means to elucidate relations 
between fragmentary "data" of the past. Material remains were compared with 
material culture in present societies, and from similarities between past remnants 
and present objects, conclusions were drawn about unpreserved aspects of the past 
(Verhoeven, this volume). Systematization of this approach led to a specialized 
branch of research, ethnoarchaeology (David and Kramer 2001). Two problems 
with the reliance on analogical reasoning are the categorization of "similar" (past 
and present) societies as static and the implication that both are different from the 
- usually Western - society of the interpreter. From this perspective, analogies are 
an "alienating mode of creating meaning." The past is envisioned as half-empty 
pigeon-holes to be filled by analogies from similarly exotic, present-day, non- 
Western cases. By necessity, such a past becomes different from "us," and the sterile 
categorizations produce a picture of "people without history." 

Another way to create historical meaning is derived from hermeneutics and orig- 
inated in a continental European context. The concept builds on the idea that the 
fundamental experience of being human allows the historian access to any past. 
There is an "original agreement between [searching, R.B.] subject and [investi- 
gated, R.B.] object" (Humboldt 1967 [1821]). Instead of a quintessential otherness 
of the past, hermeneutics assumes a timeless similarity of human life. This "iden- 
tifying mode of creating meaning" tends to deduce the present from an explored 
past and at the same time projects the present into that past, thus denying alterity 
to history. 

Both ways of creating meaning are restrictive. Analogies are limiting because the 
past receives its significance only from comparison with present non-Western soci- 
eties. The possibility of an unknown past alterity is excluded. Hermeneutics fails to 
envision such alterity because of its reliance on human experience, which can only 
be the outcome of the historian's lifeworld. Such issues of historical method are 
only one dimension of the problem. Inextricably linked to fictional content in his- 
tories is their form. In order to fully understand fictional elements in our writings, 
we need to be aware of how we construct narratives. I focus on ways in which pasts 
are narrated by analyzing three novels about the ancient Near East. I am concerned 


with several formal aspects of these novels that influence their content: the lives of 
the authors, their use of language and the construction of narrators, times of nar- 
ration, the role of imagination and of reflexivity. All of these issues are pertinent to 
the creation of historical narratives, to which I will refer sporadically. At the end of 
this paper, I will draw the various critiques together and suggest new ways of nar- 
rating the past. 

The Ancient Near East and Historical Novels 

A search for high quality literary works 1 about pre-Hellenistic Mesopotamia brings 
little to light. Apparently the ancient cultures between the Euphrates and Tigris are 
regarded by writers as so strange that creative involvement with them appears 
impossible. A preference for the "lands of the Bible" is based on familiarity that is 
primarily an imagined one. The "exotic other" of Orientalism (cf. Said 1978) is 
rescaled: historical novels of the ancient Near East create a stark contrast between 
Biblical "roots of Western civilization" and past "pagan" cultures. 

The three novels I selected - Thomas Mann's Joseph and his Brothers tetralogy, 
Lion Feuchtwanger's Flavins Josephus trilogy, and Stefan Heym's King David Report 
- all treat periods in the history of Palestine. I begin with a precis of each novel. 

Thomas Mann's Joseph and his Brothers 

Mann planned this novel during journeys to Egypt in the years 1925 and 1930. It 
turned into an opus magnum of four volumes, each subdivided into seven chapters. 
The first volume appeared in 1933, after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany; 
the last volume was printed in 1943 in Stockholm by a publisher of exile literature. 
Work on the story accompanied Mann's loss of German citizenship. 

The first volume, The Stories of Jacob, contains a long philosophical discussion 
about whether the deep past was different from the present. Myth as the repetition 
of "typical situations," the central tenet of the whole novel, is associated with a cyclic 
conception of time. What was, arises again; no event is unique in mythical history. 
The Fall, fratricide, and the flood had occurred at many places and times. The 
remainder of the first volume contains a discussion between Joseph and Jacob, 
which then turns into a lengthy review of the stories of the Biblical patriarchs. 

In the second volume, Young Joseph, the first three chapters portray Joseph's edu- 
cation as a scribe and intellectual by the servant Eliezer. Mann takes this as an occa- 
sion for a detailed discussion of myths in general. The remaining chapters treat the 
infuriatingly egoistic dreams of Joseph, which provoke his brothers to throw him 
into a well. Taking inspiration from the Book of Job, Mann turns Jacob into a figure 
who struggles over the existence of God when he hears of the alleged death of his 
favorite son. 

The epic length of the volumes increases with Joseph in Egypt, based on Genesis 
39. Mann discusses the tensions between what he calls the "above" (rationality, 


mind, intelligence) and the "below" (desire, life, fertility): Joseph in the service of 
the eunuch Potiphar whose wife wants to entice Joseph in sexual intercourse. 
Attracted and repulsed, he flees but lands in prison. The last volume begins with a 
debate among angels, who gloat over the fate of humanity and of Joseph in partic- 
ular. However, Joseph is able to escape his bad luck. In prison, he interprets the 
dreams of prominent servants in Pharaoh's palace and of the Pharaoh himself, after 
which he lands in a high political position in Egypt. At this point, his brothers appear 
at his office in search of support because of a drought in Palestine. He finally makes 
his identity known to them, and the novel comes to an end with Jacob's death. 

Lion Feuchtwanger's Flavius Josephus 

Feuchtwanger was a prolific writer of historical novels. The one with which I am 
concerned here was written between 1931 and 1940 and retraces the life of the 
Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who lived in the late first century C.E. 

The Jewish War is the most eventful of the novel's three volumes. After a lengthy 
journey to Rome, Flavius Josephus returns to Palestine to become a leader in the 
Jewish rebellion against Roman occupation in 69 C.E. During the siege at the castle 
of Jotapata, fellow combatants choose death deliberately over captivity, while Flavius 
Josephus manages to be taken prisoner and predicts to the Roman general Vespasian 
that he will become emperor. With the fulfillment of the prophecy, Flavius Josephus 
receives Roman citizenship. The first volume of Feuchtwanger's work ends with the 
destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem under Vespasian's son Titus. 

The Jew of Rome, the second volume of the series, revolves again around strug- 
gles over Jewish identity, but on a more personal level. Feuchtwanger discusses Jew- 
ishness through the conflict-ridden relationship of Flavius Josephus with his wives, 
one a Jew and the other of Greek Alexandrian origin. This volume also relates the 
composition of De Bello Judaico by the protagonist, an historical work by the real 
Flavius Josephus (Michel and Bauernfeind 1959). 

In the last volume, another work of the actual Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates, is 
referred to. In Feuchtwanger's account, Flavius Josephus goes through internal 
struggles in the writing of this universal history which he originally wants to be 
"objective." However, in the increasingly repressive climate under the Roman 
emperor Domitian he decides to politicize his history, and recites it in public. After 
a reflexive turn, the aging Flavius Josephus travels back to Palestine, takes part in 
another revolt against the Romans and is dragged to death by a military unit under 
the orders of his own son. 

Stefan Heym's King David Report 

Stefan Heym's novel focuses on one of the most famous persons of the Old Testa- 
ment, King David. Heym, an East German citizen, published this novel in West 
Germany in 1972, since he was at the time denied publication rights in the GDR. 


The work had been written, like most of his other books since his years in the U.S., 
first in English and then translated by the author into German (Zachau 1982:12). 
It treats the Biblical events of kings Saul and David (ca. 10th century B.C.E.) from 
the chronological perspective of David's successor, Solomon. 

According to Heym's plot, Solomon establishes a commission to monitor the 
production of "the one and only true report" about his father King David's deeds. 
The historian assigned the task of composing the history is Ethan the Esrahite, who 
- according to the Old Testament - is the author of the 89th Psalm. The entire 
novel is a parody of the official historiography of the GDR, and Heym himself is 
to be identified with the central figure Ethan. Instead of smoothing the events into 
a narrative well adapted to the dominant ideology, Ethan attempts to insert con- 
tradictions and problems into his work. At the end of his task, he falls from grace 
and is exiled from Jerusalem, impoverished and condemned to erasure from col- 
lective memory. 

Narratives as Social Products 

Social relations of production in all literary works are inextricably interwoven with 
their content and form (Eagleton 1976:59-83). The three novels reveal unexpected 
parallels in the historical conditions of their composition. All three authors were of 
German upbringing, escaped Nazi persecution, lived in exile in the U.S., and had 
severe problems in the McCarthy era (Zachau 1982:16-17; Sternburg 1984:306; 
Heilbut 1997:365-370). Feuchtwanger and Heym were Jews; Mann's wife was of 
Jewish descent. This brought all three into risky, sometimes life-threatening situa- 
tions during Nazi times. 

Feuchtwanger, a well-known author by the beginning of the 1930s, was in North 
America on a visit at the time of Hitler's seizure of power. He attacked Hitler pub- 
licly from abroad. Two months later, Feuchtwanger's house in Berlin was demol- 
ished, and the manuscript of the second volume of Flavius Josephus destroyed; one 
year of work was lost. On May 10, 1933, his (and other intellectuals') books were 
publicly burnt (Hans 1976:240). On August 23, his name was published with 33 
others on the first "deprivation of citizenship" list. 

Feuchtwanger was lucky throughout this misfortune. On his lecture tour in the 
U.S. in 1932-33, he met Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the future president, an 
event that became crucial for his escape from Europe. The writer lived for several 
years in Sanary-sur-Mer, a center for German exile writers in France. With the 
beginning of the Second World War, Feuchtwanger was interned, then released, and 
only barely reached the American consulate in Marseille. From there, he crossed 
the Atlantic and began a new life in Pacific Palisades (California). Because of a large 
Anglophone readership for his novels, Feuchtwanger had no material problems in 

Feuchtwanger rewrote the second volume of Flavius Josephus in France and 
added a third one. In these books, the protagonist Flavius Josephus experiences 
drastic turns in his life. These changes are a reflection of the sharp reversal of 


Feuchtwanger's own fortunes. The first volume ended with Flavius Josephus reject- 
ing armed resistance. The second volume echoes the experiences of Feuchtwanger's 
initial years in exile and his commitment to a movement of literati with a strong 
Marxist "popular front" element. The last volume provides a stark contrast to the 
principles illustrated in the first volume. Written in the precarious situation of 
half-imprisonment in the American consulate in Marseille, parallels between 
the emperor Domitian and Hitler are unambiguous. The Flavius Josephus of the 
novel adheres to a radical position, endorsing openly the armed fight against 

Despite his opposition to fascism, Thomas Mann was courted to a degree by 
the Nazis who wanted to keep this recipient of the Nobel prize for literature in 
the country. However, in July 1933, Heydrich, one of the Nazis' bloodiest 
butchers, announced an arrest warrant for the writer and seized his fortune 
(Kurzke 1993:136-137). Mann moved via Switzerland and Sanary-sur-Mer to 
the U.S., where he became an American citizen in 1941. Work on the Joseph 
novels turned during volatile, dark times into a source of continuity for him. 
Mann was so well known abroad that he had to face fewer dangers than other exile 
writers. However, despite his fame as a Nobel laureate and bourgeois author, the 
FBI established a file on Mann in which he was accused of communist leanings 
(Kurzke 1993:172-173). Disappointed, he left the U.S. in 1952 (Heilbut 

In Mann's account of Joseph, his own living conditions become apparent, though 
less clearly than in Feuchtwanger's case. Joseph's exile in Egypt is only a superfi- 
cial parallel to Mann's life. The background of Mann's Joseph story is his intellec- 
tual fascination with Nietzsche's works, particularly the The Birth of the Tragedy 
(1968[1872]). Nietzsche's reinterpretation of Greek myths turned the humanism, 
rationality, and formal perfection of Greek art on its head. Greek myth was re-read 
as orgy, lust, and aggression, as a path to the Ubermensch, a concept that was only 
a step away from such fascist pseudo-theories as Alfred Rosenberg's "new myth." 
Mann - following the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch - attempted to "turn myth 
into the humane" again (Mann 1999:201). At the same time, he tried to show that 
the origin of such humanity lay in the Orient, in Jewish culture. 

Stefan Heym was considerably younger than the two other writers. A student of 
journalism in Berlin, he was supposed to be arrested the day after the burning of 
the German parliament, staged by the Nazis themselves in 1933. He got word 
of the threat and fled to Prague. Heym's literary career began in U.S. exile, where 
he wrote for the German socialist weekly Volksecho in New York. During the Second 
World War, he served in the U.S. army in a department of psychological warfare. 
In the McCarthy era, Heym ran into troubles and requested asylum in the GDR. 
He returned his U.S. war medals, and emigrated a second time. In the GDR, he 
soon landed in the ranks of the opposition. The government would probably gladly 
have let him go to West Germany, but Heym stubbornly stayed. With the fall of the 
Berlin wall in the year 1989, Heym's personal life took a final surprising turn. He 
remained faithful to his socialist convictions and was elected as representative of 
the Party of Democratic Socialism in the German Bundestag. Once again a stranger 


in his own country, he encountered hostility from the West German political estab- 
lishment (Heym 1992). 

Heym's works show an interest in the role of the writer in society, and The King 
David Report is no exception. This fundamentally political novel uses Old Testa- 
ment events as an allegory that vividly describes how the GDR regime dealt with 
undesirable intellectuals, people who knew "too much." At the same time, the book 
shows that writers can always succeed in inserting some subversive elements into 
their texts. Interpreters from the capitalist West have tried to read into the novel a 
criticism of "totalitarianism," a critique that equates the repression of intellectuals 
in fascist and socialist systems (Boll 1972; Reich-Ranicki 1974). Judging by Heym's 
own life, nothing could be further from the truth. 

What are the connections between this account of the conditions of production 
of historical novels and our roles as archaeologists and historians? Just as the details 
of authors' lives influence their novels, academic narratives about the past never 
eschew the highly variable relations of scholarly production. It is a mistake to 
measure the narratives of American, Middle Eastern, or European archaeologists 
with the same yardstick. A unified academic standard for peer-reviewed journal arti- 
cles or books is based on the largely fictive values of the ivory tower of Western aca- 
demic life, presupposing a personal environment without economic or political 
problems. Texts by scholars with easy access to resources are judged by the same 
criteria as works from those who have to struggle to consult even basic literature. 
Economic realities of academic production are not acknowledged by the establish- 
ment despite the conditions in some Middle Eastern countries where university 
professors have to have a second job to survive materially. 

The examples of these historical novels show that writing is not an activity iso- 
lated from social conditions. Some academic narratives about the ancient Near East 
are colored by the unreal concerns of people for whom social security, health insur- 
ance, and material wealth are unquestioned givens, leading to interests in ethereal 
topics such as domestication of the self, phenomenology of landscapes, or feasting 
as politics. The luxury of engaging in such intellectual fashions is accompanied by 
the devaluation of more down-to-earth interests that archaeologists from non- 
Western walks of life may find more relevant. 

Some decisions in the lives of the three writers discussed above would probably 
be viewed with incredulity by many scholars. Heym requested asylum in the GDR 
after fleeing the U.S., and Mann turned away with horror from the U.S. in the 
McCarthy era. Such moves mean voluntarily giving up one's habitual lifeworld for 
a new one, going (back) to another world without prospects for a "career," in order 
to live in less repressive conditions. 

We might ask ourselves whether and when the moment arrives at which we ought 
to leave a familiar professional and social environment for political reasons. A drift 
from a democratic to an authoritarian system of government is not limited to such 
extreme cases as fascist Germany. 2 As long as political repression occurs sporadi- 
cally and hurts scholars rarely and randomly, verbal protest may seem sufficient. In 
such a climate, a primarily politically motivated emigration would be ridiculed 
as a hysterical reaction - as was the case in academic circles in Nazi Germany. 


Independent authors may leave repressive systems more easily than academically 
based scholars because the former are not integrated into institutions. But finan- 
cial security and professional networks should not lead to the automatic refusal of 
the risks that invariably accompany radical changes of one's lifeworld. 

Problems of Narration and Language 3 

Formal analysis of any narrative, whether novels or histories, reveals that authors 
willingly or unwillingly create a narrator who recounts a story. When explicitly con- 
ceptualized, as in most literary works, narrators are more than a mere means of 
representation. The dialectical relationship between narrator and content is some- 
times skillfully employed to give the content an additional dimension. In academic 
narratives, the construction of narrators remains largely unrecognized, and the 
connections with issues of content remain underexplored. 

Language is not an unproblematic means of representations of a past. Histori- 
cal novels are steeped with the search for an adequate vocabulary. An obvious pref- 
erence would seem to be the language of the novel's subjects, which is difficult for 
the cases discussed here, since these languages are dead and rarely at the disposal 
of novelists or readers. 

Heym found an elegant solution in The King David Report. He used the language 
of Luther's Bible translation which is still the best-known Bible version in German 
and understandable despite its archaisms. This anachronistic language serves as a 
persiflage for the equally unnatural language of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of 
the GDR). In addition, by inserting "real-socialist" German terms, for instance 
"non-person" (Unperson), "infiltration," "work of fomenting" (Wuhlarbeit), "literary 
high treason," and the "backdirt heap of history" (Trotsky's creation; cf. Attar 
2001:282), the author establishes a dialectic relationship between past and present. 

Heym's novel is less a narrative of adventures than an adventure in narrating. 
Ethan, the Active author of David's biography, is inhibited by social and political 
constraints whose insights into the actual events are broadened by a variety of wit- 
nesses (Eisele 1984:1). Ethan's sources consist of interviews with court personnel, 
the presentations of a bard, verbal reports of a brutal army leader, and a reading 
by a prophet. Apart from these informants, Heym includes - invented - archives of 
cuneiform tablets. On a formal level, the novel establishes a dialectic relation 
between fictitious historical sources and a real book, the Bible. With the inclusion 
of multiple contradictory sources, the Bible is exposed as a fictitious pastiche of 
past events. 

Feuchtwanger's Flavins Josephus is less complexly constructed. The novel is 
related in the third person singular, from the perspective of an omniscient narra- 
tor. Its form remains firmly in the bourgeois tradition of 19th-century novels 
(Kopke 1983:51). Feuchtwanger employs different types of language. The basic 
idiom is colloquial German, with conventional adjectives. The description of per- 
sonalities relies on highly repetitive descriptors, turning them into stereotyped char- 
acters. Street language is employed to attribute class origins to particular people. 


Efforts to insert linguistic properties from antiquity appear only in the case of the 
priests of the Jerusalem temple. Here, an antiquated German is used to imitate 
ancient Hebrew. Feuchtwanger underlines the contemporaneity of the problems 
addressed by the novel through a consistently modern choice of language, reduc- 
ing the exoticness of historical alterity (Kopke 1989:137). In line with this func- 
tionalist language use is the simple narrative style through which the work becomes 
easily accessible to a wider public and open to the reproach of writing at the edge 
of triviality (Vietor-Englander 1989:321, 328). 

Mann's novel about Joseph is so complex in its formal structure that only a few 
important characteristics can be mentioned. He connects the narrative structure 
with the main topic of the novel, the myth. The narrator is most evident in sections 
related in the first person plural, where he displays a distance to the world of the 
novel's figures. This narrative situation often changes abruptly to a narrator with 
an internal perspective (of one of the characters) or to the views of a "pseudo- 
scholarly critic" of Biblical tradition (Heftrich 1990:14-15). 

In his representation of a "multicultural" Egypt, Mann employs English and 
French loanwords (in German) to characterize the influence of foreign languages 
of the time on Egyptian. In contrast to Feuchtwanger's contemporary use of lan- 
guage, Mann includes ancient Egyptian words. For the reader, this strengthens the 
fiction of being in the past and in the place of the narrated events and reduces 
the linguistically induced familiarity with the story that inevitably comes through 
the use of German (Hamburger 1945:32-33). Mann must have immersed himself 
in basic principles of ancient Near Eastern languages, since he embroiders the 
novels' syntax with stylistic elements fashionable in ancient Hebrew and Akkadian, 
such as the parallelismus membrorum ("measure and beauty, love and grace") or the 
figura etymologica ("dreamer of dreams"; cf. Fischer 2002:144-147). 

It is instructive to compare these formal aspects of novels to historical and 
archaeological narratives. Do the latter follow their own, specific rules of represen- 
tation, or can we learn from the use of language and narrators of historical fiction? 
Historians have argued over the best ways of representing the past since Aristotle, 
and the dispute has re-emerged with White's (1973, 1987) critiques of historical 
narration and a European form of "historical anthropology" (Dulmen 2000; cf. 
Rusen 1987). With the appearance of Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986), 
cultural anthropologists problematized their forms of textual representation. This 
has led to a much wider rethinking of the field's identity (Benson 1993). In archae- 
ological theory, reflections on textual forms and implications for power relation- 
ships emerged some time ago with poststructuralism and feminist archaeology 
(Hodder 1989; Bapty and Yates 1990;Tringham 1991; Spector 1993). More recent 
work (see below) broadens these concerns. 

In my opinion, such reflections on narrative structures have rarely had an effect 
on Near Eastern archaeology. In order to demonstrate this, I chose arbitrarily the 
1987 volume of the journal Iraq. Nearly all articles in this issue employ a passive, 
neutral voice. But scattered throughout these texts are judgmental remarks which 
unintentionally illuminate the character of narrators. In a paper on the site ofTello, 
Crawford (1987:71) writes that "a group of copper foundation figures was found," 


only to continue: "Sadly, they are not inscribed." An excavation report about a pre- 
historic site, written in an impersonal style, uses a first person plural narrator where 
the interpretation of a building's function is questionable: "We do not believe that 
it was a 'ritual' structure" (Merpert and Munchaev 1987:21). This is followed by, 
"Its most likely purpose . . ." The contrast between collective denial and emphatic 
impersonal, omniscient affirmation creates a sharp narrative boundary between two 
alternatives of interpretation. 

Roaf and Killick's contribution (1987) in the same volume is radically different 
in form. The authors' reference to Agatha Christie and detective Hercule Poirot 
is a skillful trick to produce tension in a paper with the extremely dry topic of 
stratigraphic comparisons. Quotations from Christie's book The Mysterious Affair 
at Styles insert (fictitious) persons and dialogues into this piece of otherwise per- 
fectly "scientific" literature, a creative change from the usual dull academic writing 

Common to all articles in the volume is an implicit narrator. My example is only 
meant to indicate the need for a systematic, much wider re-reading and critique of 
archaeological (and historical) styles of narration, taking into account different 
kinds of texts such as books, articles, or reviews. While writers of fiction must always 
consider the perspective from which they tell a story - the relationship between 
what is narrated and the mode of narrating is a dialectical one - most archaeolo- 
gists uncritically regard language as a linear, unproblematic means of representa- 
tion that does not affect content. Positivism, rejected by many authors, creeps in 
through the back door of language use. The 19th-century assumption prevails that 
language is capable of representing the world faithfully. Against this naive repre- 
sentational view, Cassirer (1955) argued that language is rather a means to shape 
reality. In order to change writing habits, a primary necessity is a wide-ranging crit- 
ical analysis of narrative styles of the past, both in general and of the ancient Near 
East (e.g., Hackett and Dennell 2003). 

Narrated Time and Time of Narration 

Narrated time and time of narration are related in multiple ways. In Feuchtwanger's 
Flavins Josephus and Heym's The King David Report, the past serves as foil for the 
present, a "distant mirror." In Heym's novel the parallel to the GDR is so obvious 
that it could not be ignored by the regime's censorship. For Feuchtwanger, who 
wrote theoretical treatises about historical novels (1963, 1985), the "distant mirror" 
was the only real legitimation for this literary form, a stylistic means to represent 
contemporary burning political and social issues in "costume." The distancing and 
exoticization of present issues through their placement in the past deepens the 
appreciation of our own world. As Feuchtwanger put it (1985:155), "one recog- 
nizes the silhouettes of a mountain chain better from a distance than in the middle 
of them." 

The Flavius Josephus novel underscores his theory in two regards. First, Feucht- 
wanger uses Josephus to describe the problematic position of a writer who lives 


in a diaspora where he meets hostility from the foreign community and other ex- 
patriates. Clearly, we encounter the author's own problems located in the past. Sec- 
ondly, the novel contrasts nationalism and global citizenship, a question of great 
concern to European Jews in times of rising fascism (Nyssen 1974:158). 

In Mann's novel, the relationship between past and present is differently con- 
ceptualized. At the very beginning of the novel, in the chapter "Descent into Hell," 
Mann rejects the teleological story of the Bible as well as modern linear notions of 
history and time. The author interweaves the principal subject, the myth, with the 
novel's form. He uses a cyclical concept of time, characteristic of myths, for his own 
narration. To this end, Mann exploits C.G. Jung's theses of archetypes and arche- 
typical situations, implying the return of figures and events. For instance, Abraham 
claimed twice, when under distress, that his wife Sarah was his sister, as did his son 
Isaac. Mann interprets these cross-generational repetitions as imitations that need 
not even have taken place in praxis. For Isaac, they may have stayed completely in 
the realm of rhetoric and fancy. In mythical thinking, it is unnecessary "to clearly 
differentiate between being and meaning" (Mann 1999:22; cf. Nolte 1996). Simi- 
larly, there is no clear boundary between this life and a netherworld or between past 
and future. 

Mann set himself the task of pressing the cyclicity of events into a linear narra- 
tive. The narrator repeatedly mulls over this problem (e.g. Mann 1978:81-82). 
Persons return several times in different incarnations. Joseph himself is an arche- 
type with the characteristics of Sumerian Tammuz, Greek Dionysos, and Egyptian 
Osiris (Berger 1971:54-57). 

However, Mann's depiction of myth serves also as a "distant mirror" on a meta- 
level.The concern with myth in the world of Joseph reflects the dominant interest 
in myths among the bourgeoisie of early 20th-century Germany (Nipperdey 
1990:512-516). Nietzsche's philosophy, Wagner's Germanocentric operas, and 
Freud's psychology are all centrally concerned with myths. 

Lukacs (1962:288-290) has pointed out that parallels across periods of time, 
such as the "distant mirror," imply historical stasis. Therefore, historical novels with 
contemporary concerns would display an ahistorical quality, giving them popular 
appeal because it seems as if past people had grievances and joys identical to those 
of the present (Settis 1986:147). This accusation could also be applied to many 
theoretically informed archaeological writings that have a present agenda as a basis. 
If Lukacs's idea is accepted, archaeological works of feminist or Marxist persuasion 
would tend to be particularly ahistorical due to their focus on contemporary con- 
cerns. However, Lukacs's argument is problematic since preservation of the status 
quo, likewise a program anchored in the present, is often implicitly included in his- 
torical novels. Aware of this, Lukacs (1962:337) adds that historical novels must 
show the path from a past situation to the present. All historical works must focus 
on historical change in order to escape the "freezing" view of a distant mirror. Fem- 
inist historians have promoted similar views (Scott 1986). 

Another possibility is to abandon the linearity of Western historical narratives 
entirely, pursuing Mann's ideas further. Historians sometimes address temporal 
cyclicity on a theoretical level (Rottgers 1998). The integration of these concepts 
in historical narratives would be particularly apposite for many societies of the 


ancient Near East that held cyclical views of time (Maul 1994). A hermeneutically 
conscientious historiography would have to find new narrative forms to express the 
dialectical tension between the linearity of the time of narration and the cyclical 
nature of narrated time. 

Mimesis and Imagination 

Aristotle's conviction that historiography is an art and not a science, but an art dif- 
ferent from poetry, still affects the relationship of literature and history. According 
to Aristotle, historical mimesis imitates the details of (past) reality in a narrative, 
whereas poetry uses mimesis as an imitation of possible and likely events by focus- 
ing on general, recursive patterns of reality (Burke 1997:77). 

Historical novels include both kinds of mimetic elements to various degrees. 
Here, I am interested in the role of historical mimesis, in the inclusion of external 
"sources" in the creation of the three novels. Heym simply relied on discussions 
with the historian of religion Beltz, who assured him that there were no secondary 
sources for the history of King David outside the Bible. Heym's project had, as he 
tells us, the "huge advantage" of avoiding lengthy investigations. He could concen- 
trate exclusively on analysis of the Biblical text and its inconsistencies in order to 
derive a story about the way it was composed (Heym 1988:761-764). Heym knew 
that the Biblical texts about David had been compiled after King Solomon's 
life (Finkelstein, this volume), but preferred to set the commissioning of the 
history in Solomon's time to describe him as an usurper striving for legitimation 
(Hutchinson 1992:152-153). 

Feuchtwanger (1985:157) opts openly for "lies that promote imagination" rather 
than historical mimesis severely restrained by reliance on evidence. In one of his 
novels, he asks, "Was it important whether Jesus of Nazareth had actually lived? An 
image of him existed which was intelligible to the world. Through this image, and 
only through this image, truth came into being." The historical effect of fiction is 
immeasurably greater than any academic history. Feuchtwanger's over-estimation 
of his own literary power finds its echo in his Flavius Josephus. 

Despite his contempt for factual history, Feuchtwanger created entire scenes 
based on descriptions of archaeological monuments. The plundering of the temple 
in Jerusalem is derived from the relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome (Feuchtwanger 
1932:439). The author had examined this building during a journey to Italy (Jeske 
and Zahn 1984:47). The rendering ofVespasian's physiognomy correlates in detail 
with the emperor's busts (Feuchtwanger 1932:170-172). In such descriptions 
Feuchtwanger follows a double strategy. He remains entirely in the realm of fiction 
for individuals or places that are not central to his novel. But for major characters 
and locations, he adheres strictly, wherever possible, to specific archaeological mon- 
uments, portraying physical traits by referring to a statue of the person in question 
and to buildings on the basis of their preserved remains. 

Mann pursues an approach less hampered by chronological details, individual 
identity of statues, or the experience of place. This does not imply a lack of 
knowledge, since his letters suggest intense research (Mann 1999). Mann 


picked freely from his readings those elements that corresponded most closely 
to his plans for the novel. At the center of attention in his choice of readings are 
works by the historian of religion Alfred Jeremias, one of the "pan-babylonists" 
under the influence of the anti-Semitic orientalist Hugo Winckler. Additional inspi- 
ration came from "pan-mythological" theories of Bachofen, C. G. Jung and 
Mereschkowski, who contended that myths in all pre-modern societies were struc- 
turally similar. 

While Mann read a large amount of academic and "fringe" literature on the 
history of religion, he had no ambitions to remain faithful to culture-historical 
sources. The model for one description of Joseph was a statue of Hermes by 
Lysippos (Mann 1999:86). Elsewhere, Joseph is fashioned after the painter Paul 
Ehrenberg with whom the young Mann had a homoerotic relationship, and in yet 
another place after a relief of Cha-em-het, the chief of the grain barns under 
Pharaoh Amenhotep III (Kurzke 1993:64-67). Hence, the protagonist is merged 
from several highly divergent sources. Multiplicity of prototypes also applies to Mut- 
em-enet who appears in the Bible only as the "wife of Potiphar." Mann literally 
pulls her out of the darkness of anonymity by providing her with the highly sug- 
gestive name "Mut in the desert valley." For the description of Egyptian personal- 
ities, statues serve as a foil. However, Mann did not agonize over such "banalities" 
as chronology. While he placed his story in the late second millennium B.C.E., he 
knowingly used a statue of the first century B.C.E. for the description of the reac- 
tionary priest Beknechons (Fischer 2002:596-597). Not surprisingly, Mann spoke 
of the "droll exactness" of archaeology (cited in Mieth 1976:39). 

Despite such a cavalier attitude, Mann insists on the scientific aspects of his 
novel, particularly in its historical-religious and archaeological facets (Hamburger 
1945:34). If the author cared about his sources, why was he so inconsistent in the 
use of archaeological materials? The answer lies again in Mann's central concern 
with myth. Mythical thinking implies the condition where words such as "once" 
can be applied to past and future similarly, where a person memorizes actions as 
his or her own which are deeply anchored patterns of recursive praxis. They are 
part of what Levi-Bruhl called participation mystique: a lack of distinction between 
object and subject, a conception of the self not as an ego with clear boundaries 
between self and world but as a more or less active identification with (human and 
other) predecessors. As Eliezer is the servant of generations of patriarchs, the figure 
of Beknechons is a Wieder -ganger, a re-occurring archetype with "transpersonal psy- 
chology." Consequently, historical accuracy is not just unimportant but detrimental 
for Mann's novel, which aims at unveiling a mythical worldview completely alien 
to modern historical thinking. 

The comparison of these novels reveals a general similarity in the treatment of 
historical mimesis: it is enfolded in poetic mimesis which facilitates the focus on 
individual lives. However, there is considerable variability in the importance of his- 
torical detail. A commitment to a high degree of historical mimesis may, as in 
Feuchtwanger, be accompanied by programmatic statement to the contrary. On the 
surface, Mann seems to abstain from any attempt at imitation of reality. However, 
his goal is historical mimesis on a deeper level of past worldviews. 


Any historical-archaeological narrative is likely to be built on a reverse relation- 
ship between historical and poetic mimesis. The world of the possible is subordi- 
nated to a narrative that imitates "reality." The extent to which the inclusion of 
poetic mimesis may be beneficial to historical mimesis itself, as shown in Mann's 
novel, remains largely unexplored in theoretical discussions of history and archae- 
ology (Bernbeck and Pollock 2002). 

Narrative Reflexivity 

All three works discussed here stand out by their high degree of reflexivity. In 
Feuchtwanger and Heym, reflexivity is realized through a protagonist-writer whose 
occupation plays a predominant role in the narrative. In order to problematize the 
act of writing, Feuchtwanger avails himself of a challenger for Flavius Josephus in 
the person of Justus of Tiberias. Feuchtwanger repeatedly employs the confronta- 
tion of these authors to demonstrate how the same "historical material" may lead 
to diametrically opposed historical narratives. Flavius Josephus produces a seven- 
volume account of the "Jewish War," full of compromises and concessions. Justus 
argues with statistics and numbers in a slim book, "sharp, clear, polished and inef- 
fective" (Feuchtwanger 1936:9). Reason stands against passion and truth against 
dramatic effect (Kopke 1989:140). In a clever fashion, Feuchtwanger discusses his 
views about historiography: legend-like narratives are more effective than dry facts 
(Sternburg 1984:239). 

In Heym's The King David Report, the historian Ethan is at the mercy of a com- 
mission. Heym shows less the prejudices of Ethan than those of the committee 
members. Heym seems to believe in the possibility of an impartial historiography 
when he has Ethan state that "you cannot entirely divorce history from truth" 
(Heym 1997:244). However, he also puts cynical words in the mouth of his pro- 
tagonist (Heym 1997:39): "Blessed be the name of the Lord our God, whose truth 
is like a field arrayed with flowers of many colours, for each man to pick the one 
striking his fancy." Whole sections of Heym's novel are a collage of invented con- 
tradictory historical sources that lead readers to reflect on the general reliability of 
historical material. The novel also creatively addresses the necessity of selectivity 
and silencing in storytelling in order to provide coherence and closure to a narra- 
tive (cf. Wesseling 1991:119-127). 

Mann's novel situates reflexivity not - as in Feuchtwanger's and Heym's cases - 
on an epistemological but on an ontological level of historiography: the narrator of 
the novel problematizes the creation of entire worlds instead of questioning the 
methods of narration such as source selection. In the process, the narrator rela- 
tivizes his own created world as one among many possibilities. This is emphasized 
where the narrator's ironical advice stands in opposition to what is going to be 
reported. Additionally, a connection between form and content is constructed as 
the protagonist Joseph goes through a process of increasing reflexivity in the novel, 
and Mann creates a parallel movement of a narrator who increasingly reflects on 
his ways of telling the story (Nolte 1996:142). 


This dialectic relationship of narrator and story is complicated by the changing 
point of view of the narrator who propagates on the one hand "life as it recounts 
itself" as the historical original, declaring that he represents events in accordance 
with their truthful reality. On the other hand, narration of the long gone past is for 
him an entreaty and a "taste of death," built on traditions about the past that are 
skimpy and sparse (Mann 1978:32-34). The narrator of the Joseph story is a 
dubious, unstable figure. A reflecting subject, critical towards history as well as self- 
critical, he forces readers to stay distant from the story. Then suddenly, the narra- 
tor accompanies the story directly and empathetically in its own development. At 
such a point, he openly requests the readers' sympathy with the actors. Mann 
himself argued that such contradictory ways of narrating follow a "principle of inde- 
cision," an attitude he preferred over determination and clarity. The inclusion of 
internal reproach does not have Joseph's "real" history as its main focus but the 
"pure possibility of narrating" (Petersen 1991:147, 152-153). 

The political effect of Mann's mode of narration is far less obvious than in 
Heym's or Feuchtwanger's works. The characters in their novels emphasize falsifi- 
cations in historiography caused by imbalances of power and subjective perception. 
In Mann's figures, this epistemological ability to critique is missing since their mode 
of thinking is mythical. Thus, only the narrator can be critical. However, since 
Mann's narrator can neither be located clearly in space nor time, and since this nar- 
rator explicitly relativizes his own account, he does not acquire a capacity of polit- 
ical criticism. Mann's narrator remains encapsulated in the bourgeois ideology of 
Van pour Van. 

Academic discourse is much more geared towards reflexivity, both in history and 
archaeology, than literary works. Droysen introduced reflexivity in his 1 9th-century 
"histories" (cf. White 1987:88-93), and reflexivity has recently become a focus 
in postprocessual methodologies (Hodder 2000). Such reflexivity largely remains 
epistemological, problematizing the ways of representing the past, but not address- 
ing ontological questions of narration and "pastness." 

Toward the Future of Historical Narratives 

In this last section, I address the implications of a consideration of historical novels 
for our own work as historians and archaeologists. I am concerned with three main 
issues, politics of narration, agents of narration, and facticity. 

Politics of narration 

Politics of narration includes the author's relations of production and the con- 
struction of a relational past. The conditions in which authors work merit more 
consideration than we as historian-archaeologists are willing to admit. Issues of 
class, religion, nationality, language, connections to publishers, and affiliations with 
institutions all help to structure a highly unequal field of discourse. Unfortunately, 


professional ideologies produce the impression of a level field. The ultimate irony 
is that we often research social inequality while denying its existence in our own 
realm. Silencing is not just a matter of discourse about "the past," but also of its 
multiple constructions which are not all given a chance in a particular present locale 
(but see Hodder 1999). Multivocality in archaeology remains for the most part an 
utterly normative concept, where "voices" are treated as coherent units whose con- 
nections to a material world and relations of power are not problematized. Worse, 
some "voices" are folded into mainstream discourse as a means to domesticate 
them, as has happened with some strands of feminist archaeology. 

Historical novels reveal another element of fundamental importance for the pol- 
itics of narration: narratives are based on their own negation, the conflicting ver- 
sions that never make it into a written history. History's most basic error is to 
assume that "sources have the right of veto" (Koselleck 1979:206), that they can 
unequivocally constrain interpretations of the past. As Heym shows so well, remains 
that survive to serve as sources are the result of power struggles in the past. Textual 
or archaeological preservation are not based on socio-politically neutral acts of a 
stream of "tradition" or "agency" (Barrett 1994; Pauketat 2000). Rather, past cura- 
tion, mutilation, recycling, and outright destruction are political acts. What we need 
is a political taphonomy (cf. Bernbeck 2003), investigations into how any "docu- 
ment of civilization ... is at the same time a document of barbarism" (Benjamin 

Any narrative about the past is diachronically relational since it establishes a 
link between a past and a specific present. In the three novels, power relations 
between narrated time and time of narration explore this theme. The metaphor of 
a "distant mirror" is employed by authors and literary critics alike to characterize 
writings that emphasize similarities between past and present. On the other hand, 
an explicit rift may be created in order to preserve the past's alterity. Academic 
history diverges from these possibilities in that pasts are at best shattered distant 
mirrors or fragments of alterities. But the political implications are comparable. 
Archaeologists opt implicitly for one or the other of these links. Constructions of 
past world systems (e.g., Algaze 1993) are a clear case of mirroring, as is a recent 
book on women in the ancient Near East (Bahrani 2001). Currently relevant issues 
serve as the foreground for an interpretation of the past. Feuchtwanger's powerful 
defense of such an approach (1985) and his emphasis on free imagination are more 
convincing than much of the theoretical archaeological literature that tries to legit- 
imize the authority of such narratives by arguing for facticity where fictionality 

The construction of alterities originally may have been the goal of anthropolog- 
ical Near Eastern archaeology. In Lukacs's (1962) and Rusen's (1989:121-135) 
views, alterities have the important potential to show a way out of a present that 
has lost its Utopian imagination. However, the teleology of the anthropological focus 
on social evolution renders that path useless in this regard. The present is conceived 
as inherently "better" because more complex than the past. A remedy would be the 
construction of non-directional, truly historical alterities. This entails the develop- 
ment of a "hermeneutics of the unfamiliar" (Jaufi 1991:70-71). 


The relation between past and present is neither dialectical nor a dialogue, but 
one of inequality (but see Joyce 2002: 10-14). We inflict narrative constructions on 
a past, sometimes creating the voices with which we wish to have a dialogue, and 
these discourses, not the past itself, reassure or haunt us and generations to come. 
This political element of narrating the past plays an essential role in all three novels. 
While it has recently been addressed in archaeology, it remains a separate meta- 
discourse - such as this paper - rather than an integrated element of archaeologi- 
cal narratives. 

Agents of narration 

Archaeology has not been preoccupied with the construction of narratives. Apart 
from occasional references to the literary turn in cultural anthropology, remarks 
about Hayden White's analyses of history prevail (cf. Pluciennik 1999; Joyce 
2002:13-16). This focus on (thought-provoking) ideas of a single author does not 
do justice to the diversity of historiographical issues. White (1973; 1987) concen- 
trates on tropes, emplotment, and their ideological implications to the exclusion of 
most other aspects of narratives and combines them into an overly rigid typologi- 
cal scheme (White 1973:29; cf. Stiickrath 1997). 

One formal element of narratives that plays no role in White's theories is the 
agent of narration. Narrators are necessary constructs in any linear account of the 
past but are unconsciously suppressed in archaeological texts or remain confused 
mediators between what is narrated and the author's product. As noted, novelists 
have taken ingenious steps to weave the narrator(s) into their stories. Today, novels 
with an omniscient narrator are considered anachronistic (Lukacs 1962:19-29), 
whereas this is still the dominant style in academic writing about the past. 

As historians, we would profit from an explicit discussion about narrators in 
our writings. Time as a cultural construct of narratives could be creatively relativized 
by conceptualizing it as rhythmic in the perspective of a specific narrator, 
rather than as physical-objective. On a more general level, the reflexive conceptu- 
alizing of narrators would help us to reflect critically on the form of our texts and 
gain some distance to our renderings of the past, thereby seeing them as stories 
told by an intermediary agent. It would also force us to divest emotionally from an 
overly close commitment to a particular construction of the past, a position per- 
ceptible in many archaeological texts heavily concerned with relevance and an ide- 
ology of facticity. 

Facticity and fiction 

Isn't striving for factual knowledge and interpretation based on such knowledge 
fundamentally different from poetry and literary writing? Fiction writers may con- 
sciously produce ideology, whereas most historians still try to limit such influ- 
ence on their work. In my introduction, I pointed out that past realities are not 


identical to historical reality. Historians construct meaningfulness by arbitrarily dis- 
secting past residues into clearly delimited items, documents, and contexts - sources 
- only to merge the disjointed fragments into a new continuum. However, the new 
entity has a profoundly different character from the originally encountered resid- 
ual: it is linked in a linear textual narrative. 

History needs to be seen as cultural and historical praxis that occurs in specific 
social relations of production. Like the standard novel, what we know as standard 
history is a textual product typical for an emerging 19th-century capitalist bour- 
geoisie (Barthes 1968:33-34). Does this mean, as some historians claim (Jenkins 
1999:202-206), that we should abandon the pursuit of narratives about the past 
altogether? I do not think so. However, there is a need to continually rethink their 
form. Historical and archaeological narratives are ideological in that they generally 
claim facticity, at least of sources. As already argued, the production of relations 
among sources in the "rejoining" process of historiography involves fiction. A future 
task must be to analyze the dialectical relation between the construction of datasets 
and the creation of an interpretive narrative from them. This process is a social 
praxis that cannot simply be seen as creative ingenuity or academically rigorous 
method. It is driven by conventions, which in turn are recreated by the act of nar- 
rative production. 

Future narratives of the past: aspectival historiography 

Most of the problems raised in this discussion of historical novels involve the form 
of narratives. The present use of linear textual accounts in much of Near Eastern 
archaeology, with (suppressed) omniscient narrators and an unreflective use of lan- 
guage, is in need of change unless we accept the implications for content that come 
with this particular narrative form. Conventions that we use for our accounts of the 
past reproduce coherent worlds. Yet postmodern conditions do not have a place for 
know-it-all historical narrators who skillfully weave autonomous "data" into mean- 
ingful wholes. Such narratives may be the result of a yearning for a reliable, closed 
world, however cruel and conflict-ridden the content may be. When reflecting on 
narrative form, authors often refer to the erroneous belief that comprehensibility of 
a story is reduced when multiple perspectives are considered. Indeed, our notion 
of perspective itself is a historical product. "Perspective," or "looking through," has 
its origin in the individualistic gaze that originated in Renaissance art and can be 
compared to strict points of view in literature (cf. Jay 1993:51-53, 171-210). This 
fundamental concept began to disintegrate in the early 20th century with Freud, 
in art with cubism, and has reached new lows with postmodern architecture and 

History and archaeology have remained impervious to the end of perspectivism 
because its demise weakens the rarely questioned fundamentals of professions con- 
cerned with the past. Particularly in hermeneutic approaches, a single-narrator per- 
spective leads by necessity to an unrealistic representation of the past. It conceals 
conflicts by telling a story from one angle. An historical account should rather 


integrate divergent standpoints that do not add up to a harmonious whole. Fol- 
lowing Brunner-Traut's (1992:7-40) terminology, such a historiography can be 
called "aspectival." 4 

Any past topic, whether a political system, gender relations, or a period as a 
whole, was certainly seen by diverse people in the past in multiple ways. If we wish 
to depict the past not as a wishful dream but as an unknowable world inhabited 
and acted upon by people with different interests, we should recount it from several 
different perspectives at the same time and abandon the harmonious bourgeois per- 
spective of the individual onlooker. 

How can such an aspectival history be told concretely without turning the his- 
torical text into an incomprehensible narrative? The aspectival historical text must 
include several viewpoints and therefore several narrators. However, a history that 
employs frequent switches of perspective and narrator, close to the ideas of the 
nouveau roman in French literature (Morrissette 1963), seems impractical because 
the reader's effort to follow the form would inhibit comprehension of content. A 
preferable solution might be to create several fictitious narrators who recount, one 
after the other, alternative histories of the same period or theme. Put differently, an 
aspectival history should consist of several (perspectival) histories. Invented narra- 
tors would draw on the same past residues, classifying them variably and accord- 
ing to individual preferences into particular sets of sources, silencing some, and 
putting the remainder together in a specific way. 5 Not only would a reader be con- 
fronted with alternative accounts of a past but also with the - more or less reflex- 
ive - creation of building blocks of the historical narrative. Where identical sources 
are used, variable evaluations would introduce differences in historical reconstruc- 
tions and relativize simplified and harmonious narratives. 

It may sound as if I propose to recreate an edited book by inventing narrators 
of single chapters. Rather, I suggest that in order to illuminate the underestimated 
political and social importance of the act of narrating, motivations and restrictions 
of narrators of different histories should be discussed in fictitious frame stories. 
They would reveal each historical construction as the result of a specific relation- 
ship between today's social relations of production and a past. 

Each individual narrative thereby keeps its internal coherence, and would even 
appear as "hyper-coherent" in its harmony of narrator, his or her life circumstances 
and interests, and the history created. However, the juxtaposition with other, the- 
matically identical histories produces an aspectival, broken structure. Different 
social conditions in the present lead to divergent representations of one and the 
same "past." The aspectival historical discourse is not just broken by references to 
disparate source selection and construction of relations between sources. The past 
would not only be a (more or less distant) mirror, but the invented frame stories 
would act as a second mirror which the present - in terms of the historiographic 
form - holds up for the past. Different world views and perspectives of historians, 
influenced by power relations and general socioeconomic conditions, echo mul- 
tiple viewpoints by people in the past. 

Perspectives originate in aesthetic considerations. A perspective implies a basic 
social agreement between the producer of an object and a public that takes this 


point of view as unquestioned and often unquestionable. This ideology reached its 
zenith with the 19th-century bourgeois era. Reality has long since overhauled such 
a "view of things." In a world characterized by the contemporaneity of the non- 
contemporaneous, and the dissolution of physical space as a center of life, per- 
spective in historical narratives is an anachronism. 


At the beginning of this paper, I juxtaposed a popular and an academic account of 
Urfa's past. The discussion of historical novels and their comparison with archae- 
ological narratives leads me to conclude that academic renderings of the past are 
formally quite close to popular stories. Following a present fashion in archaeology 
and inserting "living people" into the past would be equal to succumbing to the 
desire for a historically unrealistic closure and harmony. If the goal of "peopling" 
our narratives is to reach out to non-specialist readers, we would do better to insert 
present-day figures who conceive of the past in different ways and thereby cast 
doubt on both the myth of unilinear development from early agriculturalists to 
Roman civilization and Nimrod's atrocities. Narratives of the past are always in need 
of critique. 


I thank Eskandar Abadi and Svend Hansen for awakening my interest in the analy- 
sis of historical novels. Maria das Dores Cruz, Geoff Emberling, and Susan Pollock 
provided important critique and insightful comments on earlier versions of the 


1 I follow Horkheimer and Adorno (1991[1944]:130-131) in separating high quality art 
from low quality culture industry on the basis that the latter relies on "substitute iden- 
tity." The core of products of the culture industry is imitation of other works and their 
supposed similarity to reality, rather than transcendence of that reality. 

2 The post-September 11 intellectual and political environment in the U.S. exhibits this 
erosion of democratic rights and values. 

3 In the following section, I use the linguistic male form when referring to narrators because 
all narrators of the three novels are conceptualized as male. 

4 I do not agree with Brunner-Traut's primitivist interpretation of the aspective. 

5 To reach such goals, clear and creative writing would need to be stressed in academic 
education. Good writing skills are neither a mysterious "gift" nor an ability that can be 
learned mechanically. 



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Reassessing Evolutionary 

Reinhard Bernbeck 
and Susan Pollock 

Ever since the writings of V. G. Childe, the ancient Near East has been known as 
a region of evolutionary "firsts." Research on the relation between Neandertals and 
modern humans has a long tradition in the Levant. The Near East is famous for 
the earliest transition from hunting and gathering to herding and agricultural com- 
munities, often referred to as the "Neolithic Revolution." The same is true for 
urbanization, and, many would claim, for the development of the state as a politi- 
cal form of organization. Finally, empires appear very early in ancient Mesopotamia. 
The papers in this section discuss facets of these fundamental changes, providing 
new ideas about their timing, internal processes, and past people's own perceptions 
of them. Topics that occur repeatedly are power disparities, means of communica- 
tion, social cohesion, demography and reflections on relations between past and 

This series of papers exhibits a shift in basic conceptions that parallel major 
chronological periods. Thus, for research on the Palaeolithic, biological evolution 
plays an important, if not dominant, role (Shea) . With the "Neolithic revolution," 
changes in social, economic, and political structures become the predominant 
concern (Kujit and Chesson; Forest). Anthropological strands of Near Eastern 
archaeology have investigated all these issues intensely. However, anthropological 
interest in the ancient Near East usually stops abruptly with the beginnings of what 
has traditionally been conceived as "historical times," when large numbers of 
written documents - principally clay tablets - become available. Texts reveal intri- 
cate connections among religious ideas, state administration, and economic trans- 
actions. Could it be that the fast pace of historical change and the complex web of 
evidence is too burdensome for highly abstract anthropological models and para- 
digms? Ever since the abandonment of a culture-historical framework in the early 
1960s, anthropological archaeology of processual and various postprocessual per- 
suasions has had an unfortunate tendency towards theoretical generalization that 
made it difficult to integrate multifarious and often discrepant historical knowledge 


into a coherent account. Historical times, in turn, are the preferred fields of 
European-style Near Eastern archaeology, with a focus on the connections between 
texts and material culture derived from an understanding of change as historical 
rather than evolutionary. Though often dismissed, the Old Testament is part of this 
textual tradition, and its importance as a foundation for three major world religions 
in the present has resulted in a heavy emphasis on archaeological research of the 
relevant time periods (Finkelstein) . 

One of the themes that runs through these chapters is the importance of 
demographic change. The possibility of acquiring archaeological evidence of demo- 
graphic change rather than simply assuming it is a result in large part of the intro- 
duction of regional surveys into Near Eastern archaeology by Adams (1965, 1981; 
Adams and Nissen 1972). All of the papers rely heavily on demographic estimates, 
from reflections about the probability of Neandertal extinction in the Levant (Shea) 
to deforestation and its connections to a concurrent overpopulation in the late Pre- 
Pottery Neolithic (Kujit and Chesson); from the "evolutionary dead-end" of city- 
states as densely populated centers that cannot solve their conflictual relations until 
a hegemonic state appears (Forest) to the comparison of two textually well-known 
polities in early Biblical times (Finkelstein) and imperialist deportations that deci- 
mated these and other peripheries (Liverani). In this connection, it is interesting to 
note that demographic change as a background factor is recognized and relied 
upon, but that methods of assessing it (estimation of population per hectare of set- 
tlement, change in settlement patterns through time, etc.) have not developed at 
the same pace as the complex interpretations based upon it. 

Demographic processes go hand-in-hand with changing political and social 
circumstances. Authors in these chapters use different terminologies that imply 
fundamentally different concepts and values of historical change. Notions such as 
resistance, contest, and negotiation give archaeological interpretations a specific, 
implicitly judgmental character. Whereas Shea represents Palaeolithic humans as 
strategizing individuals, in Kujit and Chesson's Levantine Neolithic we encounter 
unspecified groups in negotiation over positions, for which they employ material 
items. For historical periods, arguments are more complex. Forest discusses theo- 
ries about state emergence and their applicability for the ancient Near East. He 
finds conflict models and associated ideas about aggrandizing and strategizing elites 
wanting and sees in the Mesopotamian development towards the state a realization 
of Hobbes's idea of the social contract that serves the interests of all. His views 
differ substantially from those of mainstream researchers in the ways he conceptu- 
alizes states. As a consequence, he argues that states emerged much later in the 
ancient Near East than the archaeological orthodoxy maintains. Finkelstein dis- 
cusses political conditions in times of state emergence in the Levant. In his account, 
resistance by small-scale polities against major empires has detrimental effects, 
whereas collaboration creates a situation that is in the interest of all - the empire 
as well as its periphery. According to Finkelstein, ethical and political values pro- 
mulgated by prophets such as Amos or Micah - oppositional voices of the ancient 
Near East (Bloch 1959:1541) - are at best misguided, if not invented after the fact. 
Liverani's account diverges from such a sympathetic view of bowing to the powers 


that be, through his ironic rendering of the imperial perspective that can only see 
in imperial expansion the beneficial results of saving peripheries from chaos. 

Reflections on ways of communicating tie this section together. Forest gives new 
meaning to the worn-out idea of "complexity," which is traditionally understood as 
vertically differentiated units (hierarchy) plus horizontal differentiation (division of 
labor; Flannery 1972). He suggests that it is not simply the number of separate 
units that is historically important, but rather the social distance between such units, 
producing variable patterns of communication that lead, in the case of increasing 
distance, to greater anonymity. Forced breakdown of communication is a typical 
imperial strategy, as implied in the Roman divide et impera notion, which is well 
exemplified in Liverani's account of sophisticated strategies of ancient Near Eastern 
deportation schemes. Even more fundamental is the problem Shea tackles: could 
different sub-species in the Middle Palaeolithic communicate, and if so, how? Were 
both Neandertals and modern humans able to speak as we are? And did they have 
general capacities for symbolic behavior? Shea advances the idea that Neandertals 
were not able to invest an exterior world with meaning - even though they may 
have been able to speak - whereas modern humans developed a symbolizing capa- 
bility that went beyond interactions with each other to the assignment of meaning 
to a material environment. 

Related to communication is the topic of social cohesion, or in systems theory 
parlance, integration. In Finkelstein's account of King Josiah's time, in whose reign 
the Old Testament took its definitive shape, he argues that (religious) ideology is 
responsible for social cohesion. Finkelstein reads the Bible as an "invention of tra- 
dition" (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983), and his central question is the moment of 
this invention and its accompanying power constellations, rather than the tradition's 
content. Archaeology, through its ability to analyze social structures and ancient 
landscapes, becomes in Finkelstein's hands a means to investigate the genesis of a 
text. He points out that ideologies inherent in the Biblical tradition are at the core 
of expansionist tendencies, an argument further elaborated by Liverani. According 
to Liverani, empires are not characterized by social cohesion but by a multitude of 
ethnic groups that all have their specific interests. Therefore, royal ideologies are 
largely self-indoctrination for courtiers rather than means to intimidate foreign 
visitors. Kujit and Chesson, despite some hesitation and critique of functionalist 
arguments, connect the development of ritual items such as figurines to social stress. 
Their interpretation of changing characteristics of figurines as deliberate under- 
scores in a broader sense the "invented traditions" concept; however, in their case 
it does not serve to consolidate an elite. Forest's position partly dispenses with the 
notion of cohesion as a "problem" by relegating it to the habitual realm, with an 
emphasis on consensus that is to be understood as a matter of course. He histori- 
cizes this position by proposing that consensual development ended with the emer- 
gence of hegemonies, which as a result needed to produce integrating traditions. In 
this respect his argument stands in contrast to Kujit and Chesson's ideas who see 
the need for integration as already a problem in Neolithic times. In Paleolithic 
periods in the Middle East, social cohesion arises on the level of sub-species com- 
munication and contact. Shea questions the possibilities for social contact between 


Neandertals and modern humans who inhabited the Levant in the Middle 

The relationship between past and present, a problem raised in the first section 
of this book reappears here in several papers. Liverani artfully interweaves his 
discussion of ancient Near Eastern empires with the imperialism of colonial and 
modern times. His insightful comments about the "descriptive" terminology for 
ancient Near Eastern empires mirrors Pollock's analysis of media discourse. His 
accounts of Assyrian and Achaemenid imperial policies have an uncannily familiar 
ring. Finkelstein leaves no doubt that texts reflect the ideologies of their composi- 
tion rather than their content, but in his case, this plays out as a relationship between 
two past periods, the seventh century B.C.E. and earlier times of kings David and 
Solomon. His reflections parallel Bernbeck's discussion of historical novels. The 
implications of Liverani's and Finkelstein 's arguments are far-reaching. Archaeolo- 
gists tend to see all materials from one context as contemporaneous. However, they 
may be altered items and texts from earlier times, and such modified objects or 
texts may tell us less about their time of production than that of their alteration. 
Both of these papers provide abundant evidence that such processes are part of the 
history of archaeology itself and that we are ourselves agents of such manipulation. 

Interpretations of the past necessarily stand in a dialectical relation to the 
present. It is interesting to note that all of the papers in this section - and of the 
volume as a whole - employ a modus of representing the past that is best described 
as "selective intentionality." The deliberate character of actions seems to be arbi- 
trarily affirmed and/or rejected. Could Neandertals have attempted to stave off their 
own extinction? Is it likely that Neolithic people deliberately opted for ambiguity, 
as Kujit and Chesson argue - not without themselves expressing some doubts? Did 
the late kings of Judah have all the freedom for ideological and political maneu- 
vering Finkelstein accords them? Could they decide themselves about their rela- 
tionships to the "superpower" Assyria? And could it not be that decisions taken at 
the Assyrian court were to a certain extent dependent not only on power play and 
internal conflict, but on habitual practices? In these cases, intentionality and delib- 
erateness emerge like islands out of an unaddressed sea of habitual practices. On 
the other hand, where the habitual is explicitly discussed, its presence or absence 
is simply asserted - as in Forest's claims that change in the Uruk period was slow, 
and that people were appreciating the growing polities as being in their own inter- 
est, no matter where they were positioned in society. Writing an account of the past 
is deeply influenced by our own deliberate or habitual ways of bestowing inten- 
tionality on some past people and withdrawing it from others, a subject that war- 
rants much more explicit discussion in archaeology. 


Adams, Robert McCormick, 1965 Land Behind Baghdad. Chicago: University of Chicago 


Adams, Robert McCormick, 1981 Heartland of Cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
Adams, Robert McCormick, and Hans Nissen, 1972 The Uruk Countryside. Chicago: 

University of Chicago Press. 
Bloch, Ernst, 1959 Das Prinzip Hoffnung. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp. 
Flannery, Kent, 1 972 The Cultural Evolution of Civilizations. Annual Review of Ecology and 

Systematics 3:399-426. 
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds., 1983 The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: 

Cambridge University Press. 

Bleeding or Breeding: 
Neandertals vs. Early 
Modern Humans in the 
Middle Paleolithic Levant 

John Shea 

When Cro Magnon met Neanderthal, one or the other may occasionally have bled, 
but I think that they surely bred (if the sexes were properly assorted). 

(Hooton 1946:338-339) 

For much of the 20th century, evidence from the Middle Paleolithic period in the 
East Mediterranean Levant (47,000-240,000 B.P.) supported the hypothesis 
that modern humans evolved from Neandertal ancestors. Since the mid-1980s 
Neandertals' ancestral status has been challenged by fossil, genetic, and archae- 
ological evidence. Today there is an emerging consensus that Neandertals were a 
distinct human species who competed with early modern humans for the same 
niche in the Later Pleistocene of Western Eurasia (Tattersall and Schwartz 2000; 
Hublin 2000; but for a dissenting view, see Wolpoff 1996). Although one might 
expect the exclusion of Neandertals from modern human ancestry to diminish sci- 
entific interest, it has not. If anything, Neandertal origins, their possible interac- 
tions with modern humans, and the mystery of their extinction are among the 
hottest research topics in paleoanthropology. This paper reviews the Middle Pale- 
olithic archaeological record associated with Neandertals and early modern humans 
in the Levant and examines evidence bearing on these humans' possible interac- 
tions and their evolutionary relationships. 

Neandertals originated in the late Middle Pleistocene (>130,000 B.P.) probably 
from Homo heidelbergensis populations of Europe (Hublin 2000). Neandertal 
fossils have been found at sites throughout much of Europe and western Asia dating 
to as recently as 30,000 B.P. In the East Mediterranean Levant (Syria, Lebanon, 
Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula), Neandertal fossils have been found at 
Tabun, Kebara, Shukbah, Amud, and Dederiyeh caves (figure 7.1). Distinctively 
Neandertal cranial features include a suprainiac fossa (a ridge on the back of the 
skull), a retromolar space (a gap between the third molar and the ascending part 

Nahr Ibrahim 
• Yabrud 

Biqat Quneitra 

Umm el Tlel, # Kowm 

, Jerf Ajla 
• Douara 

Abu Sif, Erq el-Ahmar & Sahba 

Tor Faraj 
Tor Sabiha 



Sites with 
Middle Paleolithic 
human fossils 



200 km 

Figure 7.1 Map of the Levant showing the locations of principal Middle Paleolithic sites (author's 


of the jaw), and midfacial prognathism (forward-flexed cheekbones and nasal 
bones) (Lieberman 1995). Thick deposits of cortical bone and enlarged joint 
surfaces indicate Neandertals were extremely powerful individuals who habitually 
exerted themselves at or beyond the peak levels of recent human populations 
(Trinkaus et al. 1998). Their postcranial remains feature the relatively short distal 
limb segments characteristic of populations that have adapted physiologically to life 
in cold climates (Holliday 2000). It has long been suspected that Neandertals had 
less capacity for speech production and language than modern humans, but this 
hypothesis remains controversial (Schepartz 1993). 

The term "early modern humans" refers to the subset of modern-looking human 
fossils dating to before the Middle Paleolithic/Upper Paleolithic (hereafter MP/UP) 
Transition (>36, 000-47, 000 B.P). Fossil evidence and numerous studies of genetic 
variation among living humans suggest early modern humans originated in Africa 
near the end of the Middle Pleistocene (>130,000-250,000 B.P.) (Klein 1999). 
Most such early modern human fossils occur in African contexts, but two sets of 
early modern human fossils have been found in the Levant at Skhul and Qafzeh 
caves. Like modern humans, the Skhul/Qafzeh fossils have relatively short, 
basicranially-flexed skulls with high frontal bones and prominent chins. The 
postcranial skeletal robusticity of the Skhul/Qafzeh humans is comparable to recent 
humans, and their relatively long distal limb segments suggest origins in a warm 
tropical climate (Holliday 2000). 

In Europe, Neandertals are associated mainly with the Middle Paleolithic 
"Mousterian" industry and various MP/UP Transitional industries, such as the 
Chatelperronian. The earliest European modern humans are associated with Upper 
Paleolithic complexes, such as the Aurignacian. The chronological priority of 
research in Europe has resulted in debates about Neandertal and modern human 
evolutionary relationships usually being framed in terms of contrasts between the 
Middle vs. Upper Paleolithic. Upper Paleolithic assemblages differ from their 
Middle Paleolithic predecessors by preserving consistent evidence for the following 
innovations (Klein 1999:520-556): 

• systematic production of prismatic blades, 

• carved and decorated bone/antler/ivory and stone implements, 

• representational and abstract art in a variety of media, 

• regional and short-term chronological variation in artifact design choices 

• long-distance exchange networks in lithic and other raw materials, 

• high-speed/low mass projectile weapons (spearthrower darts), 

• functional differentiation of living space (storage pits, architecture). 

Some of these behaviors are known from earlier periods and from contexts 
associated with Neandertals and other pre-modern humans (Mellars 1995; 
McBrearty and Brooks 2000), but they only become regular features of the 
archaeological record after 47,000 B.P. and in contexts associated with modern 



date BP 
(x 1000) 

Chronology as of 1 982 Chronology as of 2001 












early Upper Paleolithic 
Tabun B Qafzeh Skhul 

Tabun C 


Tabun D 

later Lower Paleolithic 

(Acheulo-Yabrudian & 

Late Acheulian) 

early Upper Paleolithic 
Kebara Amud 

Tabun B? 



Tabun C 

Tabun D 

later Lower Paleolithic 

Figure 7.2 Changes in the chronology of Middle Paleolithic human fossil sites in the Levant 
1 982-200 1. For references, see text (author's original) 

Possible interactions between Neandertals and early modern humans in Europe 
are thought to have occurred over a relatively brief period, 8,000-10,000 years at 
the continental scale (28,000-36,000 B.P.), but probably closer to 2,000-4,000 
years in any given region (Pettit 1999; Churchill and Smith 2000:106; Pilbeam and 
Bar-Yosef 2000). In Europe, the first appearance of modern humans practicing 
Upper Paleolithic adaptations typically coincides (within a few thousand years) with 
the last appearance (and presumed extinction) of local Neandertals. 

In contrast, the Levant contains evidence for possible Neandertal-early modern 
human interactions for a much longer period (see figure 7.2). Fully 83,000 years 
(47,000-130,000 B.P) separate the first appearance of modern humans in the 
Levant from the last appearance of Neandertals in that region (Bar-Yosef 1998; 
Griin and Stringer 2000). These humans' prolonged co-residence in the Levant is 
compelling evidence that the European MP/UP Transition records only one very 
late, and potentially atypical, episode in the long course of Neandertal and early 
modern human co-evolution. 


Historical Background 

The 1925 discovery of "Galilee Man" in Zuttiyeh Cave, near Tiberias (Turville- 
Petre 1927) was the first indication that the Levant possessed a rich paleoanthro- 
pological prologue to its Biblical heritage. Shortly thereafter, Dorothy Garrod's 
1929-34 excavations in the Tabun, Skhul, and El Wad caves on Mount Carmel 
revealed a long sequence of occupations stretching from the Lower Paleolithic to 
the Epipaleolithic (Garrod and Bate 1937). The interpretation of Middle Paleolithic 
human remains from Tabun and Skhul have had a lasting influence on broader 
models of modern human origin and Neandertal extinction. 

In Tabun Cave Levels B-C Garrod recovered one adult burial and numerous 
fragmentary human remains. This discovery replicated similar finds of Neandertal 
remains together with Mousterian tools then coming to light elsewhere in south- 
ern Europe. At Skhul Cave, a small collapsed rockshelter about a hundred meters 
east of Tabun, ten archaic-looking specimens of early modern humans were 
extracted from Middle Paleolithic levels that were heavily brecciated (i.e., mineral- 
ized into a concrete-like hardness). In describing the Tabun and Skhul 
fossils McCown and Keith (1939) grouped them together as a single fossil sample. 
Although they recognized that there were differences between the more "paleoan- 
thropic" (Neandertal-like) Tabun fossils and the more "neoanthropic" (modern 
human-like) Skhul fossils, combining these samples seemed justified by 
several factors. The most important of these was Garrod's argument for the 
chronostratigraphic equivalence of Skhul Level B and Tabun Level C. But, it was 
also the case that some of the Skhul fossils exhibited primitive morphologies rem- 
iniscent of those seen among Neandertals. In the end, McCown and Keith inter- 
preted the Tabun and Skhul fossils as a single population in the throes of an 
evolutionary transition. 

In emphasizing variability within the "Mount Carmel Man" population, 
McCown and Keith anticipated interpretive trends that would not become common 
in paleoanthropology until after the 1950's "New Synthesis" in evolutionary 
biology. Other paleoanthropologists treated the Mount Carmel fossils as either a 
combination of separate Neandertal and early modern human samples or as the 
products of hybridization between Neandertals and early modern humans (e.g., 
Hooton 1946). As additional Neandertal and early modern human fossils were dis- 
covered during the 1950s and 1960s, McCown and Keith's views were more 
broadly adopted. By the 1960s, the Middle Paleolithic humans of southwest Asia 
were increasingly accepted as a population evolving from Neandertal ancestors into 
early modern humans (Howell 1959). The Middle Paleolithic archaeological record 
of the Levant was seen as documenting Neandertals' behavioral transformation into 
anatomically and behaviorally modern humans (Binford 1968; Jelinek 1982; Marks 

Because the Middle Paleolithic in the Levant was largely beyond the effective 
range of radiocarbon dating, the weak point of this evolutionary model was its 


chronology. Until recently, most researchers supported a "short" chronology for the 
Middle Paleolithic. This chronology placed the origins of the Middle Paleolithic 
around 80,000-90,000 B.P, and postulated a Neandertal-modern human transi- 
tion by around 40,000-50,000 B.P. (Farrand 1979; Jelinek 1982:99). 

It was not until refinements of thermoluminescence (TL), electron-spin reso- 
nance (ESR), and uranium-series dating in the mid-1980s that the short chronol- 
ogy could be tested. The first application of TL dating to Neandertal contexts at 
Kebara Cave produced results congruent with the short chronology, 47,000-65,000 
B.P. (Valladas et al. 1987). However, TL dates for the early modern human con- 
texts at Qafzeh (Levels XVII-XXIV) averaged a surprising 92,500 B.P. (Valladas et 
al. 1988). These dates reversed the long-assumed chronological relationship 
between the Levantine Neandertal and early modern human fossils in the Levant. 
Further TL and ESR dating established that Skhul, too, was vastly older than 
expected, 80,000-130,000 B.P. (Mercier et al. 1993), while the Amud Neandertals 
were relatively recent, ca. 50,000-70,000 (Valladas et al. 1999). The inferred age 
of the Tabun fossils remains unclear owing to uncertainties about the stratigraphic 
provenance of these fossils within the complex stratigraphy of Tabun Cave (Bar- 
Yosef and Callendar 1999). A second set of problems concerns markedly divergent 
results ofTL, ESR, and U-Series dating forTabun (Griin et al. 1991; McDermott 
et al. 1993; Mercier et al. 1995; Griin and Stringer 2000). Nevertheless, at the very 
least, these new dates overturn any model in which Levantine Neandertals can be 
the ancestors of the Skhul/Qafzeh humans. 

Human Demographic Discontinuity in the Pleistocene Levant 

The complicated pattern of alternations between Neandertal and early modern 
human occupations of the Levantine caves revealed by the new "long chronology" 
raises questions about the assumption of human demographic continuity during 
the Middle Paleolithic period. 

Paleoanthropologists routinely assume continuity between human fossil samples 
separated by thousands of kilometers and hundreds of millennia. This is a reason- 
able accommodation to small sample sizes and a patchy fossil record, but it also 
involves a tacit assumption that extinction is a rare occurrence among humans 
(Brace 1964). Our large population size, broad geographic distribution, and tech- 
nological adaptations insulate recent humans from many of the forces that push 
other large mammals to extinction. However, we cannot necessarily extend these 
qualities to smaller, isolated, and non-agricultural Pleistocene societies. A wide 
variety of circumstances can force large terrestrial mammals with slow reproduc- 
tive rates, like humans, below their minimum viable population size and into con- 
ditions from which demographic recovery is impossible (Gilpin and Soule 1986). 
It seems reasonable to suspect that many human fossil samples are undoubtedly 
evolutionary "dead ends" and that human evolution in any particular region should 
have been marked by recurring demographic discontinuities. Assessing the risk of 


human population extinction requires knowledge about their distribution, size, and 
degree of geographic isolation. 

The distribution of Middle Paleolithic sites within the Levant suggests that the 
core area of human settlement was the Mediterranean oak-pistachio woodland and 
its ecotone with the Artemisia steppe (Horowitz 1987). This association with the 
Mediterranean woodland is not arbitrary. Mediterranean woodlands contain more 
edible plant, small animal, and large game species per unit area than any other 
major ecozone in Western Eurasia (Blondel and Aronson 1999). The size of this 
core area undoubtedly varied widely through time. The highly restricted present- 
day distribution of woodland, roughly 80,000 sq. km provides a reasonable 
minimum estimate, while the polygon enclosing all known Middle Paleolithic sites 
in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel provides a maximum estimate of 1 20,000 sq. 
km. This tight settlement focus on the Mediterranean woodland is an important 
way in which the Levantine Middle Paleolithic differs from the Upper Paleolithic 
and Epipaleolithic periods. It suggests that the size of Middle Paleolithic human 
populations was probably closely correlated with climate change and variability. 

The Levant is not a large region, and the pre-agricultural populations of this 
ecozone can never have been very numerous. One can derive an estimate of overall 
Middle Paleolithic population size in the Levant from the population density figures 
for recent human hunter-gatherers living in broadly comparable temperate wood- 
land habitats. Using Binford's (2001: 152) figure of eight persons per 
yields a projected regional population of 6,400-9,600. These numbers are larger 
than Wobst's (1976) minimum viable human population of 475 individuals, but 
they are almost certainly an overestimate. Even though estimates of Neandertals' 
energy requirements are within the range of those for living humans (Sorenson 
and Leonard 2001), numerous zooarchaeological studies suggest Middle Paleolithic 
humans were less effective at collecting smaller game than recent human 
hunter-gatherers (Klein 1998; Stiner et al. 1999). If both these inferences are 
correct, then it seems reasonable to infer that Middle Paleolithic population den- 
sities were much lower than those of the recent human hunter-gatherers. These 
populations' risk of encountering minimum viable population thresholds would 
therefore have been significantly higher, particularly if they were isolated from other 
human populations. 

The Levant is often described as a biogeographic "corridor," but during the Late 
Pleistocene it was often an island of woodland bounded by sea, desert, and moun- 
tains. Episodically, the coastal woodlands would have been isolated from southern 
latitudes by the northward expansion of those steppe and desert ecozones during 
warmer periods and the southward movement of montane vegetation during colder 
periods (Weinstein-Evron 1990). Southwest Asian steppe and desert habitats appear 
to have been settlement frontiers for Middle Paleolithic humans. The Lisan Lake, 
which filled the southern and central Jordan Rift Valley, would have separated 
human populations living in the coastal hill country of the southern Levant from 
those on the Transjordan Plateau for much of the Middle Paleolithic period 
(Malchus et al. 2000). To the south, the Nile Delta appears to have been a formi- 
dable barrier to faunal dispersals (Tchernov 1998:78-79). 


Settlement pattern evidence, comparative demographic data from ethnographic 
hunter-gatherers, and paleoclimatic evidence support a model of Levantine Middle 
Paleolithic human populations numbering less than 10,000 people living along the 
Mediterranean coast and adjacent hill country. Large mammals with slow repro- 
ductive rates that are isolated in small populations living in circumscribed refugia 
are at an intrinsically higher risk of extinction than populations distributed over 
broader areas and more ecologically-diversified habitats (MacArthur and Wilson 
1967). These risks of extinction would be compounded further if the population in 
question consisted of more than one distinct species (Gilpin and Soule 1986). These 
basic ecogeographic considerations suggest reasons to question the popular 
assumption of human demographic continuity in the Middle Paleolithic Levant. In 
fact, a critical examination reveals problems with the human fossil and archae- 
ological evidence that is often cited in support of continuity hypotheses. 

The sample of relatively complete human fossils from the Levant is small. 
There are seven adult early modern humans from Skhul and Qafzeh and three adult 
Neandertals from Tabun, Kebara, and Amud. The seven adults and two juvenile 
Neandertals from Shanidar Cave, Iraq (Trinkaus 1984) are sometimes included 
in discussions of the Levantine fossil record. Several recent studies of these fossils' 
cranial and postcranial morphology have interpreted the absence of a clear mor- 
phological break between early modern human and Neandertal samples as evidence 
for gene flow and demographic continuity among Levantine Middle Paleolithic 
human populations (Wolpoff 1996; Simmons 1999; Kramer et al. 2001). 

One of the problems with inferring gene flow from morphological similarities is 
that different species may share many features with each other because they have 
a recent common ancestor. Some morphological similarities between Neandertals 
and the Skhul/Qafzeh humans are ones shared broadly among Middle Pleistocene 
humans. Analysis of DNA from Neandertal fossils suggests their last common 
ancestor with living humans lived ca. 500,000 B.P (Hoss 2000). The unique mor- 
phological similarities between the Skhul/Qafzeh humans and the Levantine Nean- 
dertals may reflect these populations' having a common ancestor who lived more 
recently than 500,000 B.P. Unfortunately, no DNA has been successfully recovered 
from either the Levantine Neandertals or the Skhul/Qafzeh humans. Thus, we 
cannot directly estimate the antiquity of these fossils' last common ancestor. Nor 
can we test the hypothesis that the Skhul/Qafzeh humans are ancestral to human 
populations who lived in the Levant after 80,000 B.P. Even though they are fre- 
quently referred to as "early modern humans" or "Proto-Cromagnons," there is no 
direct genetic evidence that the Skhul/Qafzeh humans are ancestral to any subse- 
quent human population. They may be an evolutionary "dead end." If so, then 
treating the Skhul/Qafzeh humans as ancestors of modern humans may lead to 
erroneous conclusions about the larger pattern of Neandertal-modern human 
evolutionary relationships. 

Homoplasy is a second problem for continuity arguments based on the human 
fossil record. Homoplasy refers to morphological similarities resulting from con- 
vergent evolution among different species (i.e., similarities not shared with their last 
common ancestor). There are many possible mechanisms by which such similari- 


ties could arise among different human populations. Probably the best documented 
of these are Bergmann's and Allen's rules (the tendencies for mammals living in 
colder climates to evolve larger bodies and shorter appendages than their tropical 
counterparts). Inter-species competition for the same niche can also lead to "con- 
vergent character displacement" in morphological structures, particularly those 
related to food acquisition (Grant 1972). That Levantine Neandertals have essen- 
tially the same brachial index (the length of forearm relative to length of upper arm) 
as the Skhul/Qafzeh humans (Trinkaus 1984:269) and yet a markedly different one 
from European Neandertals may be evidence of such convergent evolution. 

Viewed in isolation, morphological similarities between the Levantine Neander- 
tal and Skhul/Qafzeh human fossils may seem compelling evidence for demographic 
continuity. But such arguments need to be contrasted with the numerous studies 
suggesting many behavioral differences between these fossil samples. These differ- 
ences include habitual levels of exertion (Trinkaus et al. 1998; Pearson 2000), grip- 
ping positions and patterns of object manipulation (Churchill and Trinkaus 1990; 
Niewoehner 2001), degrees of social buffering of environmental stresses (Berger 
and Trinkaus 1995), locomotor patterns (Trinkaus 1992; Rak 1990), and adapta- 
tions to temperature regimes (Holliday 2000). The scale of these and other mor- 
phological differences between Neandertals and early modern humans is greater 
than that between interbreeding primate species (Schillaci and Froehlich 2001). 
That these differences persist in the Levant, western Asia, and Europe for tens of 
thousands of years suggests they have strong genetic components reinforced by 
reproductive isolation. We may never know if the Neandertals and early modern 
humans were truly different species, but these morphological differences seem 
ample justification for maintaining a taxonomic distinction between them (Schwartz 

The argument that Neandertal and early modern human association with the 
same Levantine Mousterian industry is proof of demographic continuity (Wolpoff 
1989:136; Clark 1992:194) reflects a questionable equation of Paleolithic indus- 
tries and archaeologically-defined cultures. There is a crucial difference between 
these archaeological entities. Lower and Middle Paleolithic industries are defined 
wholly on the basis of lithic technology and typology. Archaeological cultures take 
lithic variation into account, but they also usually encompass variation in comple- 
mentary lines of evidence, such as pottery, architecture, and mortuary rituals. 
Because lithic industries are based on fewer lines of evidence, it is possible that two 
independent populations facing similar needs for stone tools could independently 
create superficially similar lithic assemblages. 

Traditionally, archaeologists seek information about the social affinities of pre- 
historic humans in patterns of morphological variation in artifact designs, or style. 
The search for stylistic variation in stone tools usually focuses on heavily modified 
tool types and complex technological processes, among which independent dupli- 
cation of the same designs or procedures is less likely (Sackett 1982). Unfortu- 
nately, the Levantine Mousterian lacks many of the heavily modified artifact-types 
that are found in North African and West Asian Middle Paleolithic assemblages 
(e.g., foliate bifaces, handaxes, steep-edged scrapers). The scrapers, notches, den- 



Table 7. 1 

Correlation of hominid fossils and core reduction strategies 

Qafzeh XVII-XXIV Kebara levels 

Amud level B 

Human remains 

Early modern 


Neandertals (Bar- 
Yosef et al. 1 992) 

Neandertals (Hovers 
etal. 1995) 

Predominant core 
preparation strategy 

(Boutie 1989) 

convergent (Meignen 
and Bar-Yosef 1 992) 

convergent (Hovers 

ticulates, and other retouched tools in Levantine Mousterian assemblages are so 
minimally modified that they do not contain sufficient "imposed design" to tell 
archaeologists much about the cultural affinities of the human populations who 
made them. 

Analysis of technological processes {chaines operatoires) has recently augmented 
the more traditional object-oriented search for stylistic variation in the Levantine 
Mousterian (Meignen 1995). Levallois core reduction strategies are the most tech- 
nologically complex aspect of Levantine Mousterian stone industry. Ancient flint- 
knappers' choices among the range of possible core reduction strategies can be 
inferred from the orientation of dorsal scar patterns on Levallois flakes. Theoreti- 
cally, these strategies are functionally equivalent. A competent flintknapper can use 
any one of them to obtain flakes of a desired size and shape. Flintknapping skills 
were probably acquired through imitative learning in much the same way as anal- 
ogous skills are learned both by humans and by non-human primates (Byrne 2001). 
Accordingly, one would expect members of the same stone-tool-making population 
to exhibit similar choices among alternative core reduction strategies (Lemmonier 
1992:1-2). In fact, at those three sites where core reduction strategies have 
been studied in detail (Qafzeh, Kebara, and Amud), early modern humans and 
Neandertals appear to have systematically chosen to use different core reduction 
strategies (see table 7.1). A radial/centripetal core reduction strategy dominates 
the Qafzeh XVII-XXIV assemblages (Boutie 1989), while an alternative, 
unidirectional-convergent, core reduction strategy dominates the assemblages from 
Kebara (Levels IX-XII) and Amud (Level B) (Meignen and Bar-Yosef 1992; 
Hovers 1998) (figure 7.3). These contrasting lithic chaines operatoires are difficult 
to explain if early modern humans and Neandertals shared the same cultural 

Taken at face value, both the human fossil record and the lithic archaeological 
evidence are consistent with the hypothesis of human demographic discontinuity. 
Neandertals and early modern humans appear to have occupied the Levant sepa- 
rately, each occupying essentially the same ecological niche when they were present 
in the region. 



Unidirectional Convergent 
Core Preparation 

Core Preparation 


= direction of flake scar propagation 

Figure 7.3 Contrasting unidirectional-convergent and radial/centripetal core preparation strate- 
gies. Either method can be used to create the same shape of flake (author's original) 

An organism's niche is defined by the physical space it occupies, the resources 
it consumes, and its competitors for space and resources. In terms of these vari- 
ables, Levantine Neandertals and the Skhul/Qafzeh humans had very similar niches. 
Sites containing Neandertal remains are somewhat more broadly distributed than 
finds of early modern humans, but both kinds of sites are most densely concen- 
trated in the Mediterranean woodland "core area" of northern Israel, Lebanon, 
and western Syria. Stable isotope (Sr/Ca) evidence suggests similar Neandertal and 
early modern human diets contained similar proportions of plant and animal food 
sources (Schoeninger 1982). Both humans and Neandertals appear to have been 
about equally effective at competing with the larger Levantine carnivores (i.e., lion, 
leopard, wolf, crocuta, and hyena) for the carcasses of large mammals. Their faunal 
assemblages are dominated by the same small territorial species, such as gazelle, 
fallow deer, roe deer, ibex, and boar. Large migratory species, such as wild cattle, 
hartebeest, horse, zebra, and onager, are relatively rare (except at Skhul, where 
archaeological recovery techniques bias the sample) (Bar-Yosef 2000:120-121; 
Shea 2001a:Table 5). 


Middle Paleolithic Human Strategic Variability 

It is reasonable to expect different human species sharing a (geologically) recent 
last common ancestor to occupy similar niches in the Levant. However, if we accept 
the hypothesis that Neandertals and early modern humans migrated into the Levant 
from different continents, it would be surprising if the behavioral strategies they 
used to occupy this niche were also identical. At present, there is affirmative evi- 
dence for differences in Neandertals' and early modern humans' technological 
organization and seasonal mobility strategies. There is also plausible, if somewhat 
less conclusive, evidence for differences in symbolic behavior. 

The term "technological organization" refers to the ways in which material 
culture is influenced by structural aspects (e.g., time-budgeting, frequency, risk) of 
human activities involving tool use (Torrence 1989). Stone spear point production 
appears to be one area in which Neandertal and early modern human technologi- 
cal strategies differ from each other. Most Levantine Mousterian assemblages 
contain thin and symmetric triangular flakes, or "Levallois points." Microwear 
analysis and morphometric comparisons with ethnographic hunting weapons 
suggest these triangular flakes were designed for use as spear points (Shea 1988). 
Recent human hunting populations who use spear points like those found in the 
Levantine Mousterian, do so primarily in the context of ambush or "intercept" 
hunting, predatory forays that are restricted in space and time and targeted on a 
specific kind of prey. Typically, such points are armatures for dispatch weapons 
(tools for killing an already immobilized animal) (Churchill 1993; Ellis 1997). Evi- 
dence consistent with such use of stone points during the Levantine Mousterian 
has been discovered at Umm el Tlel (Syria), where a fragmentary Levallois point 
is embedded in the cervical vertebra of an equid (Boeda et al. 1999). 

The lithic assemblages associated with Levantine Neandertals contain far more 
Levallois points than those associated with the Skhul/Qafzeh humans (Shea 1998). 
The elevated levels of point production associated with Neandertals could suggest 
their hunting strategies placed greater emphasis on intercept hunting than those of 
early modern humans living in a similar environment (Shea 1998:S58-59). Analy- 
sis of the large mammal remains from Kebara confirms a pattern of ambush/inter- 
cept hunting by Neandertals (Speth and Tchernov 1998). Unfortunately, biased 
recovery at Skhul (Garrod and Bate 1937:94) and poor preservation at Qafzeh 
(Rabinovich and Tchernov 1995) make it difficult to evaluate early modern human 
hunting strategies with the zooarchaeological evidence. 

Like most Mediterranean climates, the Levant experienced seasonal variation in 
rainfall, and therefore predictable shifts in the abundance and distribution of 
plant and animal food sources. Most human hunter-gatherers cope with seasonal 
resource fluctuations by a strategy of seasonal mobility, that is, by moving their res- 
idential sites between foraging patches with complementary sets of resources. 
Seasonality data suggest that while Neandertals and early modern humans used 
caves for similar purposes, they integrated these sites into their land-use strategies 
in different ways. 


Cementum increments are among the most reliable seasonal indicators present 
in mammal remains (Lieberman 1994). Cementum is a continuously growing tissue 
that secures teeth in the mandibular corpus. Among ungulates whose diets shift 
from hard dry foods in the summer to soft wet foods in the winter (most bovids 
and cervids), seasonal variation in diet creates a pattern of alternating opaque and 
translucent cementum increments. The outermost of these increments provides an 
estimate of the season in which an animal died. Originally, these seasonal estimates 
were only able to identify either "dry" or "wet" seasons (i.e., summer vs. winter), 
but refinements of the method now allow increased precision (Lieberman 1998). 
Cementum increments from Skhul and those levels of Qafzeh associated with 
early modern humans preserve evidence for Winter/Spring and Fall occupations 
(respectively). Samples associated with Neandertal remains at Kebara andTabun, 
in contrast, preserve evidence for multiseasonal occupation. It is not clear if 
this multiseasonal pattern results from numerous short-term occupations through- 
out the year or a prolonged and continuous occupation. Of these two scenarios, a 
series of short-term occupations is more likely. Few modern hunter-gatherer groups 
who live in the Temperate Zone remain at or near the same site throughout 
the year, except for those who depend heavily on marine resources (Kelly 

This interpretation is consistent with a model of European Neandertal social 
organization and mobility strategies recently proposed by Gamble (1999:265-267). 
This model proposes that Neandertals did not move across the landscape as recent 
human hunter-gatherers do, as cohesive multifamily groups linked together in 
regional alliance networks. Rather, Gamble proposes that Neandertals made rela- 
tively short-distance movements, primarily as individuals, and that they formed 
coresident groups and effective social networks on a temporary, ad hoc, basis. In 
this model, multiseasonal occupations like those seen at Kebara and Tabun would 
reflect numerous short-term occupations of small groups and individuals taking 
advantage of these caves' sheltering properties and their proximity to habitual path- 
ways across the landscape. If Gamble's hypothesis about European Neandertal 
mobility strategies is correct, it may be significant that Levantine Neandertals also 
appear to be practicing this same mobility strategy, and not the seasonal mobility 
strategy of the Skhul/Qafzeh humans. This suggests that the organization of Nean- 
dertal society was fundamentally different from those of both the Skhul/Qafzeh 
humans and recent hunter-gatherers. 

Subsistence and settlement pattern evidence suggests that Neandertals and the 
Skhul/Qafzeh humans occupied similar, or even identical, niches in the Levantine 
biological community. Neandertals and early modern humans seem to have adapted 
to this niche by employing different strategies of technological organization, and 
seasonal mobility. There probably were other adaptive differences, but these are the 
ones that have been detected so far. These strategic differences are subtle. They 
probably do not result from vast differences in cognitive abilities, so much as they 
do from differences in the energetic costs and benefits influencing each population's 
choice of strategies for coping with a particular set of challenges. 


Neandertal-Early Modern Human Evolutionary Relationships 

There is no direct evidence that Neandertals and early modern humans ever 
encountered each other in the Levant. Nevertheless, the region is so small and the 
Middle Paleolithic so long that most researchers take it for granted that such 
encounters must have occurred. What happened when Neandertals and early 
modern humans met? The principal hypotheses about Neandertal-early modern 
human coevolutionary relationships between 47,000-130,000 B.P. involve vicarism, 
niche partitioning, assimilation, and competitive exclusion. 

Vicarism involves the geographic and chronological separation of two or more 
closely related populations (typically different species or subspecies). Vicarious taxa 
are ecologically redundant with each other, and their distribution across the land- 
scape varies with distribution of the particular habitats to which each is best 
adapted. Rak (1993) has suggested such a vicarious relationship between Nean- 
dertals and early modern humans. He proposes that early modern humans inhab- 
ited the Levant during warmer phases, when the region was more closely linked to 
North Africa, and Neandertals inhabited the region when colder European climates 
prevailed. Each population either migrated out of the region or became extinct as 
the regional climate changed. The vicarism hypothesis is consistent with most of 
the geochronological evidence (Bar-Yosef 1998) and mammal biostratigraphic data 
(Tchernov 1998). The principal evidence against this hypothesis is that some radio- 
metric dates suggest possible overlap between the ages of the Skhul fossils and some 
of the Levantine Neandertals (McDermott et al. 1993; Grim and Stringer 2000). 
Because these dates depend on accurately inferring the history of sample radiation 
dosage, which can introduce errors into comparisons involving different sites, they 
do not conclusively refute the vicarism hypothesis. 

Niche partitioning involves two or more species altering their behavior so that 
neither competes with the other for the same suite of resources. Henry (1995:132) 
has proposed such a model, suggesting that early modern humans may have devel- 
oped specialized adaptations to steppe habitats in the interior and southern Levant 
while Neandertals occupied the coastal woodlands. As noted earlier, the absence of 
human fossil remains from the southern and interior parts of the Levant makes this 
hypothesis difficult to test. However, the overall similarity of the large mammal 
assemblages from all Neandertal and early modern humans sites argues against 
significant or long-term niche partitioning by these humans (Rabinovich and 
Tchernov 1995). 

Assimilation involves two populations interbreeding and forming a hybrid 
population between their "parent" populations. Several researchers have proposed 
this model for the Levant, based either on morphological similarities among the 
Levantine Neandertal and Skhul/Qafzeh fossil samples (Arensburg and Belfer- 
Cohen 1998; Simmons 1999; Kramer et al. 2001) or their archaeological associa- 
tions (Kaufman 1999), or some combination of both (Clark 1992). It is not yet 
clear from fossil DNA evidence if there were genetic obstacles to hybridiza- 
tion between Neandertals and early modern humans (Schwartz 1999). That the 


archaeologically detectable behavioral differences between Levantine Neandertals 
and the Skhul/Qafzeh humans are broadly comparable in scale to behavioral dif- 
ferences among recent human hunter-gatherers living in similar habitats (e.g., 
Milton 1991; Kelly 1995; Binford 2001) suggests no obvious behavioral obstacle 
to such interbreeding. Nevertheless, the fact that hybrid offspring of closely related 
species can be sterile poses an additional obstacle for testing the assimilation 
hypothesis. To assess the long-term evolutionary significance of such hybridization, 
one would have to track specific genes from parent populations, through hybrids, 
and into subsequent generations. While most paleoanthropologists consider Nean- 
dertal-early modern human interbreeding a theoretical possibility, the consensus is 
that it has not been conclusively demonstrated (Tattersall and Schwartz 1999). 

Competitive exclusion involves a population altering its ecological strategies in 
such a way as to earn a net reproductive gain at the expense of a rival population. 
Often invoked to explain Neandertals' extinction and the spread of the Upper 
Paleolithic to Europe, it has less often been invoked for the fate of the Skhul/Qafzeh 
humans around 65,000-80,000 B.P. (Shea 2001b:29). Between 47,000-65,000 
B.P., more or less coincidental with the first major cold phase of the Last 
Glaciation, only Neandertal fossils are known from Levantine sites. Archaeological 
residues associated with these Neandertal fossils indicate a novel adaptive strategy 
combining an emphasis on intercept hunting of large game with multiseasonal occu- 
pation of the coastal cave sites. These behavioral patterns are thus far known only 
from the Levant, and only in association with Neandertals, which is what one would 
expect if they first emerged in the context of competition with early modern 
humans. Nothing in the paleoanthropological record conclusively refutes the 
competition hypothesis, but it does assume that our current knowledge about 
Levantine Neandertal and early modern human behavior adequately encapsulates 
the full range of their strategic variability. 

Which of these scenarios of Neandertal-early modern human coevolutionary 
relationships is most likely correct? The niche partitioning and assimilation hypothe- 
ses both require assumptions about the evidence that are not in and of themselves 
independently verifiable. These assumptions include such seemingly irresoluble 
issues as the identities of toolmakers at sites without fossils, the possibility of 
Neandertal-early modern human interbreeding, the genetic basis for specific 
morphological similarities among human fossils, and the "cultural" nature of lithic 
industrial variability. While they are not parsimonious, the niche partitioning 
and assimilation hypotheses are not demonstrably wrong. The hypotheses of 
vicariance and competitive exclusion both fit well with Middle Paleolithic chrono- 
logical and stratigraphic evidence. The sticking point between them is whether 
Neandertals and early modern humans were ever in the Levant at the same time. 
Geographic circumscription may have intensified competition between Neander- 
tals and early modern humans to the point where any episodes of sympatry (both 
hominids being present in the same area at the same time) were so brief as to be 
archaeologically invisible. It is not clear if this issue can be resolved with the present 
array of sites and geochronometric techniques. The standard errors of TL, 
ESR, and U-Series dates from the Middle Paleolithic are so large that one could 


obtain "identical" dates for sites separated by thousands, or even tens of thousands 
of years. 


In discussing models of human demographic continuity in the Middle Paleolithic 
Levant, this essay has brought to the foreground two issues that have been given 
short shrift in recent discussions of modern human origins. These issues are extinc- 
tion and competition. Each is vitally important, not only for understanding human 
population dynamics in the Middle Paleolithic Levant, but also for understanding 
recent developments in human evolution as well. 

Extinction stalks every species, including modern humans. Our large population 
size and our technological achievements insulate us from all but the most extreme 
extinction-causing events. Earlier human populations were buffered from extinc- 
tion to varying degrees by their technological adaptations and social institutions, 
but it is probably a mistake to project any sort of "extinction immunity" to Pleis- 
tocene humans, including the Skhul/Qafzeh humans and the Levantine Neander- 
tals. Both lived in small groups during periods when rapid climate change caused 
dramatic short-term changes in their habitats. Decades of middle-range research in 
conservation biology have identified small group size and rapid climate change as 
factors that elevate the risk of extinction among large mammals with slow repro- 
ductive rates. The common assumption of demographic continuity among Pleis- 
tocene human fossils flies in the face of what we have learned about extinction from 
firsthand observation. Countless human populations must have become extinct, 
and it is possible, indeed likely that both the Levantine Neandertals and the 
Skhul/Qafzeh humans are among these evolutionary "dead ends." The sentimental 
need (or narrative necessity, see Landau [1991]) to identify a "winner" among 
the evolutionary players in the Levant makes it difficult for us to accept the non- 
ancestral status of these fossils, but the Levant is a tough neighborhood. It is a 
region in which many species have been weighed and found wanting. 

How do these considerations alter our understanding of the Middle Paleolithic 
of the Levant? The hypothesis that early modern humans were not successful in 
their first attempt to adapt to the Levant and adjacent parts of Europe and western 
Asia refocuses our attention on the differences between the Middle Paleolithic 
Upper Paleolithic modern human adaptations as clues to later humans' adaptive 
radiation. The Levant contains the oldest evidence for an indigenous transition to 
Upper Paleolithic adaptations (Bar- Yosef 2000). This is probably no accident. The 
presence of well-entrenched Neandertal populations in the Levant, effectively 
blocking the major land route out of Africa, may have been a major stimulus to the 
development of Upper Paleolithic adaptations by modern humans along the North- 
east African "frontier." The first post-Middle Paleolithic modern human occupa- 
tions of Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas all contain evidence for two novel 
behaviors, the use of high-speed/low mass projectile weapons and the establishment 
of extensive alliance/exchange networks reinforced by symbolic material culture. 


The former suggest a devastating capability to attack a wide range of prey whose 
legacy can be seen in large mammal extinctions throughout these newly-colonized 
lands. The latter suggest a high degree of integration between language and ma- 
terial culture (in effect, exosomatic information storage) for which there is little or 
no prior evidence in human evolution. Most paleoanthropologists believe Nean- 
dertals possessed some form of spoken language (Schepartz 1993); but it is not 
clear that they were able to extend their linguistic abilities to exosomatic media in 
the same way as modern humans have done since early Upper Paleolithic times. 
As Wobst (1977) has noted, the principal advantage of investing symbolic meaning 
in material culture is that it encourages cooperation and altruism among indivi- 
duals who would otherwise be divided from each other by kinship or linguistic 

One of the key differences between Neandertals and early Upper Paleolithic 
modern humans may lie not so much in possessing spoken language, but rather in 
modern humans' novel ability to invest meaning in material culture, and thereby 
to forge extensive alliance networks among otherwise small, isolated populations. It 
may be difficult for us to imagine living in a society in which material culture is not 
a medium for symbolic information. Yet, it appears that early modern humans and 
Neandertals lived this way for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, it is relatively 
easy to imagine how individuals living in such a society would be at an immediate 
and disproportionate evolutionary disadvantage in competition against individuals 
who belonged to such extensive social networks. 

The appearance of these novel Upper Paleolithic adaptations marks a major 
change in modern humans' ability to displace rival human species. Throughout 
Western Eurasia, the appearance of modern humans together with Upper 
Paleolithic material culture precedes Neandertal extinction by only a few thousand 
years (Pettit 1999). Even in those parts of Western Europe where Neandertals 
adopted elements of Upper Paleolithic adaptations, doing so seems only to 
have bought them relatively little time and no detectable increase in their geographic 
range (Zilhao and d'Errico 1999). Those few instances in which Neandertal remains 
are associated with evidence for Upper Paleolithic behavior, such as the Chatelper- 
ronian, Uluzzian, Bachokirian "cultures," cluster both in space and in time. 
Spatially, they are located in southern Europe, which is, historically, a biogeographic 
refuge for Palearctic mammals. These are the places where one finds the last living 
representatives of populations dwindling to extinction. These symbolic behaviors 
also cluster chronologically in the millennia immediately preceding the last appear- 
ances of Neandertals in each region. Perhaps these were cases of "too little, 
too late," last desperate attempts by Neandertals to stave off extinction by 
adopting strategies analogous to their major ecological and evolutionary rivals. 
Unless there was some demographic catastrophe among European Neandertal 
populations that has left neither archaeological nor fossil evidence, the principal 
cause of Neandertal extinction appears likely to have been a change in modern 
human behavior. The most likely context for such a change is in the contest between 
Neandertals and early modern humans for the human niche in the Middle 
Paleolithic Levant. 



I thank Curtis Marean, Daniel Kaufman, Patricia Crawford, and Yin Lam for their 
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Lumps of Clay and Pieces 
of Stone: Ambiguity, Bodies, 
j and Identity as Portrayed 
in Neolithic Figurines 

Ian Kuijt and 
Meredith S. Chesson 

The human body is always treated as an image of society and . . . there can be no 
natural way of considering the body that does not involve at the same time a social 

Douglas (1982:70) 


The Neolithic of the Near East encompassed some of the most profound and 
fundamental innovations in human lifeways in our species' history. Approximately 
11,500 years ago, people in certain regions of the southern Levant established 
the earliest sedentary villages in the world, settling down in food-producing com- 
munities relying on domesticated plants and animals for subsistence. This transi- 
tion involved tremendous changes in lifeways, with a move from a mobile hunting 
and gathering lifestyle to one of year-round sedentism and food production of 
cereals. The establishment of viable farming communities may have required several 
generations, but from an archaeological standpoint this shift appears to be fairly 
rapid in certain areas. However, there is ample evidence to demonstrate that these 
early farmers continued to hunt animals and gather plants, as well as trading domes- 
ticated cereals for plants and animals hunted and gathered by people in the nearby 
upland areas, especially east of the Jordan River. 

From the perspective of many archaeologists, as well as the general public, one 
of the most interesting aspects of the ancient Near Eastern Neolithic is the assem- 
blage of exotic anthropomorphic statues, animal and human figurines, and plas- 
tered and painted human skulls, all potentially representing powerful, idealized 
forces of nature, fertility, and society's struggle to control and contain shifting struc- 


tures of economy and lifeways (see Verhoeven, this volume) . The representation of 
humans in Neolithic communities is a topic that has received a great deal of atten- 
tion as a crucial element of several researchers' interpretive frameworks for under- 
standing Levantine early agricultural society. At the foundation of this literature are 
two deceptively simple questions: "What do figurines do?" and "What do figurines 
mean?" To address these questions, researchers have utilized diverse theoretical 
perspectives from a broad spectrum of disciplines, especially art history, religious 
studies, ancient history and literature, sociocultural anthropology, and archaeology. 
They have, moreover, usually explored these questions by examining Neolithic 
figurines from a broad geographic and temporal scope. While drawing upon this 
foundation, this chapter differs from most previous treatments in two ways. First, 
we approach these questions as anthropological archaeologists, with a strong focus 
on the spatial and temporal contexts of these objects on micro- and macro-level 
scales. Secondly, we limit our analysis to all published objects from the Pre-Pottery 
Neolithic of the southern Levant, restricting the geographic and temporal scope in 
order to focus on the use of figural representation in a defined space and time. This 
chapter discusses three-dimensional representations of humans, animals or geo- 
metric shapes in the form of figurines, statues, masks, or human skulls from 
southern Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) sites (figure 8.1). 

We argue that the attention to context forces us to change research questions 
about figurine function and significance, contextualizing peoples' manufacture, use, 
and discard of these objects within the social, economic, and political frameworks 
of their communities. Thus, this chapter explores how researchers can investigate 
the potential meanings and functions of figurines to PPN peoples. In this period 
people established the first agricultural communities in the world, essentially cre- 
ating a new way of life that focused on sedentism, agriculture, and animal herding. 
Throughout the PPN period, we witness the tremendous growth and eventual aban- 
donment of these earliest agricultural communities. Interestingly, the nature and 
scale of manufacture and use of figural representations of humans, animals, and 
geometric shapes shift in these communities over time, often changing with docu- 
mented transitions in economic and social practices. Our focus, then, rests on 
understanding how we can explore the relationships between social and economic 
behavioral changes and figurine use in these communities, and more specifically, 
how the representation of human forms may reflect changing understandings of 
what it meant for people to live in these communities as individuals and members 
of collective groups. 

Figurines, Bodies, and Identity 

Analysis and interpretation of the social and symbolic context of prehistoric anthro- 
pomorphic figurines has produced an extensive series of debates and discussions. 
Researchers have generated a substantial body of literature which explores ques- 
tions of why people make figurines, what figurines "do," what figurines mean, and 
what we can learn about a society from its figurines. This historical context and 

Figure 8.1 Map of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites of the Southern Levant (authors' original) 


overview of the practice and theory of figurine studies has been widely discussed 
in several surveys (in particular the Cambridge Archaeological Journal feature "Can 
We Interpret Figurines?" [Bailey 1996; Haaland and Haaland 1996; Hamilton 
1996; Marcus 1996; Ucko 1996]; Knapp and Meskell 1997; Lesure 2002). These 
authors note that figurines represent a unique form of human representation with 
a complex array of meanings, simultaneously obvious and nuanced, that may 
change throughout their life history as the makers and/or users of the figurines nego- 
tiate their own lives and relationships. The figurine may change hands several times 
over its life history, be used in many different and differently charged contexts, and 
embody multiple significances to different people (Joyce 1993; Bailey 1996). 

Figurines involve the creation of the human image in a three-dimensional, 
durable, and tangible format that extends beyond gesture, voice, and language in 
portraying some aspect of humanness (Bailey 1996). While many figurines may not 
have been designed to be strictly realistic representations of a human form, never- 
theless they do depict recognizably human elements. What is often interesting is the 
nature of this representation, namely which elements are emphasized and which are 
de-emphasized or even omitted (Joyce 1993). Joyce argues that details of human 
images are not random; rather they are deliberate and reflect stereotyping of mental 
constructs by the makers and users of them. Thus, emphases and omissions in 
figurines potentially represent a series of naturalized features that are important 
elements in how a particular society understands the materiality of human bodies 
and social identities. Douglas (1982) notes this close and inseparable relationship 
between peoples' physical bodies and social bodies. In outlining the connections 
between the personal and social body, Douglas (1982:63) discusses the interesting 
implications for how societal structures can be expressed on the body, arguing that, 
"The social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived. The physical 
experience of the body, always modified by the social categories through which it 
is known, sustains a particular view of society." We believe that the figural repre- 
sentation of humans potentially intensified this relationship between the personal 
and social. In representing the human form in a durable material good, people 
created an enduring representation of the personal and social body, focusing atten- 
tion on the key elements of what it meant to be a person and exist in a human body 
in a particular society. 

Many researchers have recognized this connection and interpreted this relation- 
ship as a potential venue for expressing concepts of identity, particularly sex and 
gender, in a society (Martin 1987; Butler 1990, 1993; Lacqueur 1990; Lock 1993), 
prompting archaeologists to think about identity in the archaeological past (Conkey 
and Gero 1997, and references therein; Gilchrist 1999; Meskell 1999; Joyce 2000). 
While the vast majority of archaeological studies of gender successfully de-couple 
the concept of gender from sex and recognize gender as a social construct, they do 
not similarly problematize the notion of sex (Knapp and Meskell 1997). Lacqueur 
(1990) and Butler (1990, 1993) have demonstrated the constructed nature of sex 
and gender, that people's understandings of their biological, material bodies are just 
as socially constructed as understandings of their own gender identities. Therefore 
there can be multiple ways of understanding the materiality of human bodies that 


may differ across space and time. How does this affect our study of anthropomor- 
phic figurines? If researchers do not question the binary categories of male and 
female and conflate categories of sex and gender, then their approach to human 
figurines by default assumes the presence of only these two categories. They 
approach the figurine assemblage looking for signs of maleness (penis) and female- 
ness (breasts, hips, buttocks) that are associated with secondary sexual character- 
istics. They may also categorize figurines according to other traits, such as costume, 
hair, or even find context, that may be interpreted as indicating male or female char- 
acteristics. If figurines do not display any of these markings then they are often 
placed in an "Other" category that may or may not enter researchers' discussions 
of normative ideas about sex and gender in a society. This constrained approach 
fails to consider the social construction of sex or gender, or the complexity of figural 
representation of human bodies. 

In this paper we discuss how integrating theories of the social construction of 
sex and gender with the analysis of anthropomorphic figurines from the PPN period 
of the Southern Levant allows researchers to explore the possible meanings and 
social context of figurine use in early agricultural villages. Specifically, we focus 
upon two major themes in this reexamination of Neolithic figurine use, meaning, 
and interpretation. First, rather than accepting the traditional view of two natural- 
ized sexes, we instead investigate the spectrum of representation and explicate the 
nature of marked, unmarked, and ambiguous representations. We argue that for 
some periods of the Neolithic the traditional search by researchers for two natu- 
ralized sexes is misleading and inappropriate, as the vast majority of PPN figurines 
are unmarked, and thus the emphasis on males and females as key binary features 
of identity is inaccurate. In this way, we hope to gain a greater understanding of 
how the PPN people understood what it meant to be human, and how they linked 
their bodies, and portrayals of human bodies, to the expression of identities. Second, 
we emphasize the importance of context in analyzing figurines (Joyce 1993; Bailey 
1996; Haaland and Haaland 1996; Marcus 1996; Knapp and Meskell 1997; Soffer 
et al. 2000; Voigt 2000). Since meaning is contextual, and often spatially organized, 
these objects can hold multiple significances. Therefore it is imperative to pay close 
attention to the context of the objects in any analysis of figurines. In initially explor- 
ing the nature of PPN representation, as well as the context of each figurine, we 
ask several general questions to document and explore issues of bodily representa- 
tion and potential meanings: 

• What elements of the human body are represented? Are representations 
restricted to portions of bodies (e.g., head, penis), or is the entire human form 

• What bodily elements are omitted (e.g., feet, hands, legs, secondary sexual 

• Are there any indications of marking or emphasizing certain bodily elements 
(e.g., head, eyes, buttocks, penis)? 

• Where was this object found? What other material culture or structural elements 
were associated with this figurine? 


• What is the overall nature of economic organization, political structure and social 
organization of the site in which this figurine was found? 

These serve as a foundation for exploring the social and political context of 
figurines from different phases of the Neolithic (cf. Lesure 2002). We now turn to 
a brief introduction to the major social, economic, and political structures of the 
Pre-Pottery Neolithic periods in the southern Levant. 

Zoomorphic and Anthropomorphic Figurines in the Southern 
Levantine Neolithic 

There is no question that archaeological field research in the southern Levant pro- 
vides researchers with our most detailed understanding of the technological back- 
ground, temporal and spatial distribution of the use and manufacture of 
zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines, as well as clay geometries, within any 
single region of the Near East (Bar-Yosef 1997) (figure 8.1). Research in other geo- 
graphic areas, specifically at the settlements of Catal Hoyiik, Hajji Firuz, and 
Gritille Hoyiik (Mellaart 1967; Ucko 1968;Voigt 1983, 1985, 2000; Forest 1994; 
Hamilton 1996), provide important insights into figurine use from surrounding 
areas. When considering figurine use in the southern Levant, it is clear that changes 
in both style and frequency of different types of figurines are seen in all of the major 
phases of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, including the first sedentary collector- 
agricultural villages in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the formation of estab- 
lished agricultural villages of the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (MPPNB) and 
the eventual emergence of large aggregate villages of the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic 
B period/Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (LPPNB/PPNC) . Each phase of the PPN involves 
a specific combination of settlement patterns, socio-economic structures, and com- 
munity types (Bar-Yosef and Meadow 1995) (table 8.1). 


The PPNA period represents the first period of the Neolithic of the Near East. It 
is characterized by relatively small forager-farmer communities whose architecture 
is primarily composed of oval-circular stone structures. There are seven anthropo- 
morphic figurines dated to PPNA contexts from several sites and all are carved in 
the round from limestone or formed of baked clay (figure 8.2; tables 8.2, 8.3, 8.4). 
One figurine has also been found at el-Khiam and identified as anthropomorphic, 
but we have characterized it as unknown or unidentifiable due to the lack of any 
overt human features (figure 8. 2d). All but the el-Khiam figurine are stylized rep- 
resentations of portions or all of a human body, and each involves a unique com- 
bination of marked features or omissions. For example, excavators at Dhra' and 
Netiv Hagdud have argued that two figurines represent female bodies, based on 
their identification of secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, hips), and overall 
shape of the figures (figure 8.2e-g) (Bar-Yosef and Gopher 1997; Kuijt and 


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Table 8.3 Summaries of figurine data by period 










busts, and 

and painted 
human skulls 
and masks 



or unknown 


7 (87.50%) 





1 (12.50%) 



45 (17.72%) 

33 (12.99%) 

25 (9.84%) 

151 (59.45%) 





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106 (22.84%) 

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28 (3.86%) 

376 (5 1 .79%) 

106 (14.60%) 

122 (16.80%) 


Finlayson 2002). Similarly, recent excavations atWF-16 and Dhra' have recovered 
two carved phalli (one at each site) (Finlayson 2001, personal communication). It 
should be noted, however, that four of the eight PPNA anthropomorphic figurines 
can be interpreted as ambiguous, without any specific markers of sex or gender 
(Bar-Yosef 1997; Cauvin 2000a). In the three cases where find context was noted, 
figurines were recovered in trash deposits (Bar-Yosef and Gopher 1997; Kuijt and 
Finlayson 2002). No clearly identified zoomorphic figurines are known from the 


The PPNB is commonly divided into three main phases: Early PPNB (EPPNB), 
Middle PPNB (MPPNB), and Late PPNB/PPNC (LPPNB/PPNC) . The collective 
PPNB assemblage contains at least 718 published zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, 
and geometric figurines. This figure must be viewed as an approximation given the 
vagaries of published data, and lack of detail in some preliminary reports (tables 
8.2, 8.3, and 8.4). We briefly review the data from these three sub-periods. 


The EPPNB is traditionally viewed as a transitional cultural phase between PPNA 
and MPPNB (e.g., Goring-Morris and Belfer-Cohen 1998), but remains poorly 
understood by researchers. As discussed elsewhere (Kuijt 1998), serious questions 
have been raised about the validity of this cultural-historical phase. Regardless of 
one's acceptance of the EPPNB as a cultural-historical unit, there are no published 
examples of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figurines from any of the archaeo- 
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The MPPNB period is characterized by the appearance of developed agricultu- 
ral villages characterized by free-standing rectangular residential buildings, 
domesticated plants and animals, and new developments in lithic technology. 
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect to representational practice in the MPPNB lies 
in the appearance of many new forms of anthropomorphic representations. These 
include large, full body anthropomorphic statues, large busts with painted faces, 
face masks made of clay and stone, plastered/painted and cached skulls and masks, 
and small anthropomorphic figurines made of baked clay or carved in stone (figures 
8.3, 8.4, 8.5, and 12.1). In addition, zoomorphic representations appear in the 
MPPNB for the first time, including significant numbers of cattle figurines made 
of baked clay recovered from multiple settlements (Bar-Yosef 1997). In contrast to 
the limited number of figurines recovered from PPNA sites, there is a remarkable 
abundance of these objects in the MPPNB (figures 8.3, 8.4, and 8.5; tables 8.2, 
8.3, and 8.4). These objects have been recovered from a wide variety of contexts, 
including public caches, trash deposits, fills, and residential spaces. 


The LPPNB/PPNC period reflects continuity in general architectural and settle- 
ment practices from the MPPNB period. Villages are characterized by rectangular 
architecture with one and two-story buildings constructed against each other. While 
there are some important elements of continuity in the manufacture and use of 
figurines from MPPNB to LPPNB, there are also some clear differences. Elements 
of continuity include the use of zoomorphic figurines made of baked clay (figures 
8.4, 8.6; tables 8.2, 8.3, and 8.4). With the exceptions of one stone human figurine 
depicting a head and a fragment of a stone mask from Basta, and eight human fig- 
urines from 'Ain Ghazal, the LPPNB/PPNC people did not represent humans 
widely in any medium. Twenty-three figurines from es-Sifiya have been character- 
ized by Mahasneh, Gebel and Bienert as anthropomorphic male (Mahasneh and 
Bienert 1999; Mahasneh and Gebel 1999). Based on the published examples of the 
seven classes of human figurines proposed by Mahasneh and Bienert (1999), we 
disagree with these researchers and categorize these objects as geometric figurines 
(although we might also entertain their categorization as "Unknown" or "Unidenti- 
fiable"). There are no clear indications of human features (much less "male" char- 
acteristics), even highly stylized ones, and thus we argue that these figurines are not 
demonstrably anthropomorphic representations. While we see a remarkable decline 
of human representations in the LPPNB/PPNC, we witness a marked increase in 
the number of geometric figurines found at several LPPNB/PPNC sites. Further- 
more, while zoomorphic figurines continue to be used in these communities, the 
number of these is much smaller compared to the MPPNB period. 

(a) Jericho (after 
Garstang 1940) 


J. & 


MPPNB Clay Ain Ghazal (after 'Ain Ghazal (after 

anthropomorphic statues/busts Roiiefson 1983) Roiiefson 1983) 

'Ain Ghazal 

(after Roiiefson 1983) 

MPPNB cache of clay 

anthropomorphic statues/busts from 'Ain Ghazal 

Figure 8.3 Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period anthropomorphic busts and statues, and cache 
from 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan (source: Cauvin 1994: Figures 39—40; reproduced by permission) 

(a) — — ^— 

MPPNB Beidha (after Kirkbride 1968) 

LPPNB 'Ain Ghazal (after Rollef son 1983) 

MPPNB Munhata (after Perrot 1966) 

Baked clay anthropomorphic figurines 

Ramad (after de Contenson 1967) 

Ramad (after de Contenson 1967) 

LPPNB Skulls plastered with clay 

Figure 8.4 Middle and Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period anthropomorphic figurines and plas- 
tered skulls (source: Cauvin 1994: Figures 36 and 41; reproduced by permission) 

Ain Ghazal (after Rollefson 1983) 

Ain Ghazal (after Rollefson 1983) 


Ain Ghazal (after Rollefson 1983) 

MPPNB baked clay 

zoomorphic representations Jericho <after Holland 1982) 





black (bitumen) 

MPPNB Nahal Hemar anthropomorphic / 
facial representations on bone 

(after Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988) 

Figure 8.5 Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period zoomorphic figurines and facial representations 
(source: Cauvin 1994: Figures 37-38; reproduced by permission) 

Basta (after Nissen, Muheisen, & Gebel 1991) 

es-Sifiya (after Mahasneh 
& Bienert 1999) 



LPPNB Clay and Stone Figurines 

Figure 8.6 Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B/Pre-Pottery Neolithic C zoomorphic and geometric fig- 
urines (sources: Nissen et al. 1 99 1 : Figure 6, reproduced courtesy of the Basta Joint Archaeological 
Project; Mahasneh and Bienert 1999: Figures 4-7, reproduced by permission) 


Meaning and Current Interpretations of Neolithic Figurines 

With this brief outline of the shifts in frequencies of the manufacture and use of 
anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and geometric figurines in the southern Levant, we 
now turn to a discussion of how these patterns have been interpreted by researchers. 
Moving beyond the realm of primarily descriptive reports, the studies of two 
researchers, Denise Schmandt-Besserat (1997, 1998a, 1998b) and Jacques Cauvin 
(1994, 2000a, 2000b), have understandably received considerable attention from 
prehistorians, professional archaeologists, and the general public. Focusing upon 
archaeological data from 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan, Schmandt-Besserat has published 
a series of reports that are among the most detailed descriptive treatments of 
Neolithic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines from the southern Levant. 
On the basis of these descriptive foundations, Schmandt-Besserat has developed an 
interpretive framework for analyzing the materials from 'Ain Ghazal, and by exten- 
sion, arguments for the meanings and ritual use of similar figurines from other Near 
Eastern Neolithic settlements. Adopting a similar approach, Cauvin (1994, 2000a, 
2000b) draws together archaeological data from different periods and places of the 
Neolithic and attempts to develop a structuralist argument for meaning and sym- 
bolism for the entire Near East. Collectively, these works serve as our most detailed 
considerations of materials from an individual archaeological settlement and an 
attempt to situate these data and others into a regional context. 

Schmandt-Besserat: figurines from 'Ain Ghazal 

Schmandt-Besserat's research provides our most detailed treatment of the manu- 
facture, use and meanings of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations of 
MPPNB and LPPNB communities. As described earlier, the MPPNB people rep- 
resented humans in several media, including statuary, masks, small figurines, and 
cached painted, plastered and undecorated human skulls (Bar-Yosef 1997; Cauvin 
2000a; Rollefson 2000, 2001a; Kuijt 2001). Even more numerous and common are 
the clay zoomorphic figurines. The majority of these zoomorphic figurines come 
from the MPPNB occupation of 'Ain Ghazal. As outlined by Schmandt-Besserat 
(1997), zoomorphic objects are remarkably uniform, with the quadrupeds repre- 
sented as standing, and varying in size from 3 to 1 5 cm in length. These animals 
are portrayed with horns, recovered from caches, and are widely interpreted as being 
bovine. Many of the animals were beheaded, and in the case of a few (the exact 
number remains unreported), apparently stabbed with several small pieces of flint. 
Schmandt-Besserat (1997) envisions the continued appearance of animal 
depictions as part of an age-old Near Eastern art tradition from the Paleolithic 
period to the third millennium B.C. Like Cauvin (1994), Schmandt-Besserat 
accepts that the frequency and endurance of these motifs is linked to a symbolic 
tradition that reflects ancient Near Eastern thought and meaning. Drawing upon 
historical accounts of third millennium B.C. Mesopotamia, she argues that there 
are a number of shared elements between the historical accounts and the figurines 


recovered from 'Ain Ghazal and concludes that these are a by-product of magic 

As with small solid clay anthropomorphic figurines, the appearance in the 
MPPNB of large statues has been widely discussed by researchers as a major 
symbolic development within Neolithic villages. With regards to 'Ain Ghazal, 
Schmandt-Besserat (1998a:9) agrees with Rollefson's (2001a) suggestions that 
the large jump in size of human figures from the PPNA to the PPNB illustrates the 
appearance of public ritual use of the figurines. Specifically, she suggests that the 
small PPNA figurines were designed for use in homes, while the large statues were 
presented in public contexts, and that the statues are unlikely to be related to ances- 
tor worship (1998b:ll). Instead, her interpretation stresses that the significance of 
the figures is seen in the magnitude of the statues and the transition from domes- 
tic figurines of the PPNA to the use of large statues to be seen by the entire PPNB 
community. As with the development of clay zoomorphic figurines, she sees the 
monumental figures as powerful symbols that help foster community cohesion, a 
largely functionalist explanation. 

In exploring the predominance of clay anthropomorphic figurines in the MPPNB 
and a rare stone statue from the PPNC period, Schmandt-Besserat (1998b:lll) 
argues that both types depict females, but there are qualitative differences between 
the stone and clay figurines. For example, she notes (1998b:l 1 1-112) that the stone 
figurine is executed with careful planning and that the rarity of stone figurines high- 
lights the importance of work in this medium. In contrast, the clay figurines were 
made of a common material, required little time investment, were discarded with 
other refuse, and were therefore probably related to magic-making activities in brief 
periods of domestic use. Thus, the stone statues' material, rarity, and aesthetic com- 
position denote a valued artifact destined for a formal public function (see also 
Foster 1993:33). 

Although separated by several thousand years, Schmandt-Besserat (1998b) argues 
that the antecedents for the PPNC stone statue are found in the earlier Natufian 
and PPNA period stone figurines. Drawing upon the ideas of Gopher and Orelle 
(1996), she finds that most stone carvings in the PPNA were sexually ambiguous or 
even dual-gendered representations that can alternatively be viewed as representa- 
tions of male genitalia (she argues that these objects appear to be stylized phalli, 
from another viewpoint a stylized human female) . From her perspective these stone 
images belong to a pan-Near Eastern Neolithic phenomenon, linked to earlier 
Natufian and PPNA figurines focused on sexuality or reproduction and appear to 
reflect pregnancy rather than conception (Schmandt-Besserat 1998b). 

Jacques Cauvin: symbolism, models, and interpretations 

In what is unquestionably the most provocative consideration of Neolithic figurines 
in the Near East, Cauvin (2000a, 2000b) has written several articles and books 
exploring the potential links between the origins of agriculture and ritual/religious 
changes. From the perspective of archaeological data his interpretations and recon- 


struction of the birth of gods in the Neolithic are centered almost entirely upon 
changes in figurines, and more specifically zoomorphic and anthropomorphic 
figurines. With the exception of some limited material from the site of Mureybet 
for the PPNA, Cauvin's interpretation of symbolism and its relation to the origins 
of agriculture is based on figurine data from the southern Levant, examining 
changes between the PPNA and PPNB. 

Developing arguments for the first phase of his interpretation of the revolution 
of Neolithic symbols, Cauvin contrasts the PPNA period with the Natufian of the 
southern Levant, arguing that Natufian art was essentially zoomorphic (Cauvin 
2000a:25). Unfortunately, Cauvin provides a highly generalized treatment of these 
materials, failing to recognize that some Natufian art is anthropomorphic, includ- 
ing carved human heads, and in one case, a couple engaged in intimate physical 
contact, often interpreted as representing sexual intercourse (Perrot 1966; Noy 
1991;Weinstein-Evron and Belfer-Cohen 1993; Bar-Yosef 1997). Focusing on the 
Levantine Khiamian, viewed by Cauvin as a sub-phase of the PPNA period pre- 
dating the Sultanian, he argues that there was a revolution of symbols (i.e., 
figurines) that predates the origins of agriculture. Cauvin suggests that it is at this 
time that we see the emergence of two dominant symbolic figures: the woman and 
the bull. He argues, moreover, that female figurines are representations of a 
Goddess, found in PPNA sites in the southern Levant as well as at Mureybet. The 
Bull, representative of a male God, is indicated by skulls of aurochs buried com- 
plete with horns in houses at Mureybet. While Bull symbolism is not found in the 
southern Levant, he suggests that the Goddess and the Bull form a separate, yet 
related, symbolic system for the Khiamian. 

Having described these two lines of symbolism, Cauvin (2000a:29) argues that 
these objects represent material culture associated with a new religion. Interestingly, 
he does not directly address the nature of this religion in the Khiamian; rather he 
describes it through the perspective of archaeological materials from C at al Hoyuk, 
occupied some 2,000 years later and situated in central Turkey. Guided by the C at al 
Hoyiik analogy, Cauvin (2000a:32) argues that a form of Neolithic female 
monotheism existed in PPNA. His treatment of this religion is, however, brief and 
presented in a way in which one has to ask how such perspectives were developed. 

For the southern Levantine PPNB period, Cauvin argues that we see a full- 
fledged emphasis and important shift from female figurines as representations of 
goddesses to bull figurines, representing a masculine God (Cauvin 2000a: 124). 
While baked and stone figurines viewed as female (due to secondary sexual char- 
acteristics, including breasts, large buttocks and abdomen) continue to appear, 
Cauvin sees bull figurines in the PPNB as complementing and even overtaking the 
authority and power of female figurines. Their increased importance, moreover, is 
reflected in their high frequency. Interestingly, Cauvin also views the plastered 
MPPNB statues from Jericho and 'Ain Ghazal as males, although there is no clear 
indication that these representations are anything but ambiguous and unmarked 
bodies. In the case of the Jericho example (figure 8.3a), he accepts Garstang and 
Garstang's (1940) interpretation that the painted lines on the face represent a 
bearded rather than a tattooed or painted face. Considering the statues cached at 


'Ain Ghazal, he accepts that one of them is female but states, "The absence of 
sexual distinctions could have been intended to make the representations either 
asexual, or as is more probable, masculine by default" (Cauvin 2000a: 1 1 1). As with 
Schmandt-Besserat, Cauvin's approach to figurine interpretation leans heavily upon 
materials from later periods and from a broad geographic area, decontextualizing 
materials and weakening his interpretive framework. 

Decontextualization and the use of texts and illustrations to understand the Neolithic 

Beyond some of the specific concerns raised above, several additional questions 
should be raised about the approaches that Cauvin and Schmandt-Besserat 
have adopted in their analysis of Neolithic figurines. Interestingly, despite the very 
different focus and intent of these two authors, both share a remarkably 
similar approach to interpreting the meaning and importance of figurines to com- 
munities in the past. Their interpretive approach is founded on the assumption 
that analogies from later cultures can be read onto the Neolithic on the basis of 
historical symbols from highly complex societies from thousands of years later 
and across significant geographic distances. Cauvin provides his readers with 
no rationale for this; rather he appears to assume that such an approach can 
be adopted with no consideration of potential weaknesses (Hodder 2001; 
Rollefson 2001b). Schmandt-Besserat (1997) does directly explore why such an 
approach can be adopted. She notes that the foundation for her approach is cen- 
tered on the earlier work of Postgate (1994), arguing that our understanding of the 
third to first millennia B.C. (through textual accounts) allows researchers to project 
into the past. Moreover, she accepts van Dijk et al.'s (1985:1) assumption that later 
texts were transcriptions of a long-lived oral tradition that had its roots in prehis- 
tory. While this may be correct, it seems remarkably premature to accept her 
argument that magic is universal, and as implied in her work, that the repetitive 
and formal nature of ritual and magic mean that the practice and meaning 
were largely unchanged from the 13th to the third millennium. While recognizing 
the important contribution of her descriptive work, Schmandt-Besserat's 
(1997, 1998a, 1998b) social interpretations of Neolithic anthropomorphic and 
zoomorphic figurines are undermined by considerable interpretive decontextual- 
ization and a version of orientalism in which the nature of the ancient Near East is 

Both of these researchers are heavily influenced by a structuralist or structural 
functionalist perspective; both ask what figurines "do" in these Neolithic commu- 
nities and how figurines reflect the underlying social, ritual, and economic struc- 
tures of Neolithic society. Schmandt-Besserat sees figurines as tools in magic 
activities. She argues (Schmandt-Besserat 1998b:lll-112) that the find context 
of the PPNC stone figurine (lying face down on a stone-paved walkway between 
two buildings, which she interprets as a "deliberately formal" context) and the 
material (stone) suggest that this figurine had been displayed in a special location, 
"destined for a formal, public function." In considering the potential uses and 


meanings of this figurine, she states that it can be understood (now and in the past) 
as a metaphor for creation, as a reflection of how the 'Ain Ghazal community 
members understood the nature of their origins, the birth of their people. 

In many ways Cauvin interprets the meaning and function of Near Eastern 
Neolithic figures from a structuralist perspective, particularly Levi-Strauss's ideas 
about duality and societal structures. In his model of figurines reflecting a dual 
religious system focusing on the Goddess and the Bull, Cauvin "reads" the figurine 
data from southern Levantine sites as indicating a system of opposing female and 
male structures. The assumption of an essentialized duality of males and females, 
and relating these structures to Neolithic peoples' concepts of nature and culture, 
finds only tenuous support from the figurine data. Neolithic people may have under- 
stood their lives and cosmologies in terms of a dual system of essentialized male- 
ness and femaleness, but Cauvin is approaching the data with this assumption as 
the foundation for his argument, rather than demonstrating the presence of this 
belief system. 

While in many societies a structuralist or structural functionalist paradigm may 
provide accurate insights into why people behave in certain ways and how they 
understand the world, we believe that imposing a dual set of structures onto 
Neolithic cosmologies is an approach that does not resonate well with the data. 
Instead, we suggest that researchers approach the question of what Neolithic 
figurines mean, and how people used them, by integrating questions of function 
with those of the nature of representation and their context. Most archaeologists, 
and indeed most anthropologists, are interested in questions of function in any 
society. Archaeologists in particular use functional questions about material culture 
as a foundation for examining questions of social, economic, and political organi- 
zation. As outlined by Voigt (2000), questions of function must always be concerned 
with context, and interpretation of one without the other is extremely limiting and 

Neolithic Figurines: Analysis, Methods, and Interpretation 

In her detailed treatment of context and Neolithic figurines, Voigt (2000) draws 
upon ethnographic literature to consider how patterned distributional data and 
figurine form and breakage from Hajji Firuz and Gritille Hoyuk aid researchers in 
interpreting figurines. Her integration of contextual reconstruction (focusing closely 
on disposal patterns), combined with ethnographic insights, provides a productive 
means of evaluating alternative interpretations of the possible uses and social 
contexts of figurines in Neolithic communities. Echoing her arguments, one of the 
major methodological concerns we have with current interpretive approaches 
centers on the issue of archaeological context. Any interpretation of the social and 
ritual context of figurines from any stage of the Neolithic requires archaeologists 
to work backwards in time from the spatial and depositional context of the object, 
through consideration of the possible use of the figurines in the past, to the methods 
of construction, and broader social meaning(s) behind these objects. Of these stages 


it is only the locus of manufacture and/or eventual discard that archaeologists are 
able to directly reconstruct. Our ability to accomplish this goal, however, is often 
undermined by the limited contextual and associational information recorded and 
published by archaeologists. In other cases, moreover, these associations are largely 
assumed rather than demonstrated in a systematic manner. 

Compilation of published figurine, statue, skull, or mask data with contextual 
information (table 8.4) illustrates the limited nature of this assemblage. Clearly, the 
most commonly reported objects are those associated with "special" contexts, such 
as a dedicatory cache, while the provenance of figurines from fills, refuse, or other 
contexts are not mentioned. In this way, certain objects are given more interpretive 
weight, though the meanings attached to items found in "less-than-special" 
contexts might have been as powerful as those objects found in caches. 
Without attention to all figurines, found in all types of contexts, we will never be 
able to understand in a broad sense how people used figurines in Neolithic 

A second concern focuses on the necessity for researchers to conceptually de- 
couple anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines in their interpretations. Beyond 
the descriptive treatments of these materials, it is often assumed that Neolithic fig- 
urine manufacture and use was static through time, with unchanged meanings, and 
that different types of figurines can be treated as components of a single interpre- 
tive analysis (Cauvin 2000a). For example, Cauvin (2000b) treats zoomorphic and 
anthropomorphic figurines as being integrated and part of some larger pan-Near 
East cosmological system. While systems of MPPNB and LPPNB anthropomor- 
phic figurines may have been interrelated in meaning, organization, and expression, 
it is likely that different figurine forms were conceptualized by Neolithic commu- 
nity members as being symbolic manifestations of different social and ritual realms. 
Research by Voigt (2000) and Ucko (1968) indirectly raises this issue when they 
highlight that ethnographic use of figurines and their life histories are remarkably 
varied and often include conceptual divisions of cult figures, vehicles of magic, 
teaching figurines, and toys (Voigt 2000: Table 2). From this perspective, it is pos- 
sible that different types of figurines, such as clay cattle and anthropomorphic 
figurines from 'Ain Ghazal, were material and symbolic manifestations of very 
different realms (e.g., hunting magic or toys vs. seated female figurines employed 
in birth rituals). 

Frequency and symbolic ambiguity in figurines 

The incorporation of new perspectives on Neolithic figurine use forces us to con- 
front several important issues that have largely been avoided by researchers. One 
of these is the question of why there was relatively little use of certain types of 
figurines. For instance, why are there so few anthropomorphic figurines in the 
MPPNB? Secondly, why did people use other figurines more frequently? Bar-Yosef 
(1997) raises the same issue for earlier periods. Considering this general question, 
he provides a functionalist explanation for the relative paucity of symbolic art, and 


argues that imagery is related to ritual; in the case of rock art, the absence of 
Natufian parietal art may be linked to differences in social structure and variation 
in subsistence resources (Bar-Yosef 1997:176). Addressing the possible meanings 
and symbolic uses of Neolithic art and figurines, Bar-Yosef defers to Cauvin's 
(2000a) interpretation of the emergence of female figurines as being related to 
issues of human reproduction and soil fertility. On the question of why there are 
so few artistic representations from the LPPNB and early Pottery Neolithic, Bar- 
Yosef suggests that increased use of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines 
may have been related to the emergence of complex symbolic behaviors for enhanc- 
ing group cohesion and resolving inter-group conflicts. 

While in general agreement with Bar-Yosef, we feel that there are other dimen- 
sions that need to be considered to gain insights into how Neolithic social systems 
were organized. First, we believe that in the process of developing broader inter- 
pretations of Neolithic figurine use, researchers have not addressed how the fre- 
quency of these objects might be related to their use. It is important to consider 
how few anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines have been recovered from the 
PPNA and to address the implications for this paucity vis-a-vis current interpretive 
models. There are a number of possible explanations, including the low population 
density at these settlements and the social contexts of use. Reconstruction of 
population levels (site size, number of human burials, total roofed floor area) (Kuijt 
2000b) compared to the number of figurines illustrates that figurine frequency is 
not a function of population growth, and by extension, suggests that the frequency 
of figurines is probably related to the social context of use. 

The relative scarcity of PPNA figurines in Neolithic villages also highlights 
another possibility: that figurines served very different social roles in different phases 
of the Neolithic. Both their low frequency and, perhaps more importantly, the fact 
that there is no evidence to suggest that southern Levantine PPNA figurines were 
cached or buried in ritual or dedicatory contexts, supports the argument that 
figurines served a very different social role in the PPNA compared to the 
MPPNB/LPPNB. At Netiv Hagdud and Dhra', the only PPNA settlements with 
relatively convincing female figurines, these figurines were found as single objects 
and in extramural midden deposits. The frequency and burial context of MPPNB 
and LPPNB figurines, plastered and painted skulls, and statues illustrate a very dif- 
ferent phenomenon. Large anthropomorphic figurines and statues were found in 
spatially discrete caches while smaller figurines were found in trash deposits and 
discrete caches. 1 In some cases, like es-Sifiya, several hundred clay figurines were 
found in a single context. At other settlements, such as Jericho and 'Ain Ghazal, 
community members buried large anthropomorphic statues in caches. The deposi- 
tional context of these figures, the placement of these caches in public contexts, 
and the frequency of objects buried suggest that they were important material 
and symbolic expressions of the views and beliefs of members of Neolithic 

A third question centers on why people in the past deliberately marked or 
obscured the gender and/or sex of human representations when constructing 
figurines. In light of the frequency of these objects in the MPPNB and their 


apparent burial in public contexts, it is surprising that most, but not all, of the large 
anthropomorphic statues have no clearly marked secondary sexual characteristics. 
The recovery of some large anthropomorphic figurines with breasts and enlarged 
buttocks illustrates that Neolithic artists sometimes chose to represent morpholog- 
ical differences of humans in clay. Thus, we have to ask why they depicted female 
secondary sexual characteristics on a minority of large anthropomorphic statues 
while deliberately constructing the majority of these statues as ambiguous with 
limited, if any, indications of sexed or gendered identities? 

Ambiguity and mortuary practices 

While the answer to this question will never be fully known, it is interesting to note 
that the patterning of deliberate ambiguity is also seen in mortuary practices in the 
MPPNB and LPPNB periods, and that similarities in these practices may reflect 
deliberate attempts to mask or control differences at the individual, household, and 
community level. As illustrated in several recent syntheses of MPPNB mortuary 
practices (Goring-Morris 2000; Kuijt 2000a, 2001), burials were organized in such 
a way that deceased males and females of any age above approximately 12 were 
treated in the same manner: skulls of adults were removed sometime after the 
primary burial, and no grave goods were placed with the bodies (Bonogofsky 2001). 
Interestingly, all but one of the small human figurines found at 'Ain Ghazal were 
found with their heads removed (Rollefson 2001a, pers. comm.). Rollefson has 
suggested that this decapitation of human figurines mirrors the practice of skull 
removal in mortuary practices (Rollefson 2001a). Rollefson (2001b) and Kuijt 
(2001) have both suggested that the MPPNB and LPPNB secondary mortuary 
practices of skull removal, plastering, painting and caching may be related to some 
ritual structure of ancestor veneration. 

Following several ethnographic studies (Hertz 1960; Kan 1989; Schiller 1997), 
we envision secondary mortuary practices in MPPNB communities as reflecting 
two interrelated, yet distinct, social dimensions: (a) the recognition of the individ- 
uality of the deceased; and (b) the idealization of links between the living, the 
deceased, and collective ancestors. While recognizing that variation is likely to exist 
within communities and through different regions, we believe that overall the acts 
of homogenous grave preparation, burial of individual dead, and absence of mor- 
tuary goods can best be interpreted as reflecting a means of controlling/limiting dis- 
plays of identity, privilege, or wealth within these communities. The widespread use 
of secondary mortuary practices in the PPN probably served as community events 
in which memories of collective and individual ancestries were actively negotiated 
and defined. We suggest, moreover, that the efficacy and power of these practices 
physically and symbolically relied on the creation of social memory by ritual prac- 
titioners, who employed a shared set of symbols understood by community 

We believe that this creation of social memories in mortuary practices offers a 
potential analog for understanding the use of figurines in the PPN period, particu- 


larly in the MPPNB.The homogeneity of mortuary practices appears to emphasize 
the deconstruction or masking of individual differences and focus on collective 
identities. Furthermore, the removal of heads of human figurines and the stylized 
representation of the human features may suggest that the people of 'Ain Ghazal 
understood the relationship between the physical and the social body very differ- 
ently than we do. The ambiguity, in choosing to not mark sexual differences in 
human representations, fits this same pattern, with the vast number of anthropo- 
morphic objects unmarked by secondary sexual characteristics. The deliberate 
manner in which the majority of large anthropomorphic statues and figurines from 
'Ain Ghazal were crafted provides no indication of sex or gender, masking any sense 
of individuality, with most statues conforming to a stylized set of features (enlarged 
heads with marked facial features, especially eyes; frequent omission or diminution 
of legs and arms). In masking differences, the MPPNB people stressed a collective, 
community identity, and emphasized egalitarian values and limited social differen- 
tiation within the community, just as we see in mortuary practices and in the built 
environment (Kuijt 2001). 

Future considerations 

In considering the general trajectory of figural representations of humans over the 
PPNA and PPNB, there is an interesting shift in marking or not marking secondary 
sexual characteristics on figurines, or representing portions or entire bodies. While 
clearly in need of further research and subject to revision, we offer these observa- 
tions as preliminary interpretations. First, while the numbers of human figurines in 
the PPNA and LPPNB/PPNC are small in comparison to zoomorphic and geo- 
metric figurines from the PPNB, some intriguing patterns seem to be emerging. 
During the PPNA, figurines are very rare, and there is a relatively even proportion 
of marked female figurines (displaying breasts and enlarged hips), unmarked human 
figurines, and figurines of phalli; interestingly, there are no zoomorphic or geomet- 
ric figurines. In the MPPNB, by contrast, the vast majority of human figurines or 
statues are unmarked. A few of the statues from Ain Ghazal display breasts, but 
there are no "corresponding" representations of male genitalia or phalli. Moreover, 
the majority of MPPNB figurines are zoomorphic. Finally in the LPPNB/PPNC, 
the overwhelming majority of figurines are zoomorphic or geometric, but in the 
human figurines found we see once again the representation of breasts and hips on 
full body representations of females or female gendered figurines and a rare example 
of a phallus from Basta (which has been interpreted by the excavators as deliber- 
ately ambiguous, displaying a phallus or a ram's head) . From this list of general 
characteristics by period, several patterns beg to be investigated. For example, rep- 
resentations of female bodies, with hips and breasts, are complemented by the rep- 
resentation of male phalli in only a few rare cases. So why are males not represented 
in full-bodied form? Why do the proportions of human, zoomorphic, and geomet- 
ric figurines shift through time, with the PPNA and LPPNB/PPNC more similar 


to each other and markedly different from the MPPNB corpus? The vast majority 
of MPPNB figurines do not mark secondary sexual characteristics: why this empha- 
sis on ambiguity? 

Aside from the representation of secondary sexual characteristics, there are some 
omissions, emphases and deliberate alterations of human representations that also 
raise some interesting issues. In the MPPNB in particular, the statuary often omits 
legs and arms or portrays them in smaller proportion than the torso and head. The 
heads of these figures are enlarged and emphasized in the depiction of facial 
features, particularly the eyes. Additionally, the deliberate removal of heads from 
human figurines at MPPNB and LPPNB/PPNC 'Ain Ghazal coincides with the 
practice of skull removal in mortuary practices: what could be the relationship and 
significance of these symbolically similar behaviors? Finally, what does it mean that 
we find the vast majority of all figurine types in trash deposits? 

Drawing upon the broader social, economic, and political context of PPNA, 
MPPNB, and LPPNB/PPNC communities, we offer a provisional interpretation of 
figurine use and meaning during these periods. We realize that this scenario is purely 
conjectural and is affected by sample size and publication gaps. At the same time, 
it is important to note that size and frequency of figurines in itself is an interesting 
question. We believe that the higher proportion of ambiguity in human figurines in 
the MPPNB and the marking of secondary sexual characteristics in the PPNA and 
LPPNB/PPNC may be related to the socioeconomic structures of lifeways in these 
communities. During the MPPNB people lived in larger, growing communities, 
building up the scale of established subsistence, residential, and ritual practices. 
During this period we witness an emphasis on ambiguity and masking of individ- 
uality in figurines as well as in mortuary practices and the built environment. Both 
the PPNA and the LPPNB/PPNC encompass periods in which subsistence, settle- 
ment, and scales of social complexity shifted radically. In the PPNA period many 
people were moving from a hunting/gathering/foraging to a fully sedentary food- 
producing lifeway. For the first time, they lived in large, sedentary communities, 
experimenting with and establishing their food production system. With the advent 
of storage and sedentism, these communities also began to negotiate and develop 
mechanisms for limiting social differentiation. Similarly, the LPPNB/PPNC people 
were dealing with stresses on their subsistence and social structures at the other 
end of the spectrum. Very large and densely populated communities struggled with 
overcrowding, sufficient food production, and resource depletion. Essentially, both 
of these periods could be viewed as times in which society struggled greatly with 
changing residential patterns, stress from living together in sedentary settlements, 
and subsistence changes. It is during these shifting and stressful times that people 
represented male and female sexed bodies (or portions of bodies), although to a 
limited extent. Perhaps during periods when social, economic, and ritual practices 
were under contention, aspects of individuality and social differentiation entered 
into the negotiation of everyday life. Importantly, the built environment and the 
mortuary practices in LPPNB/PPNC and PPNA show more diversity, underscor- 
ing the ways that people worked to live together in sedentary settlements despite 
the pressures socially, economically, and politically. 


Final Thoughts 

With so little contextual information published, it is important to highlight the 
unresolved nature of figurine research: specifically, how little we understand about 
the interrelationship between the size of communities, ritual and political action, 
and the social context of figurine manufacture, use, and discard. Any attempt to 
formulate a synthesis of "What Neolithic Figurines Mean" is very conjectural and 
potentially premature. Nevertheless, we hope that this work highlights the chal- 
lenges that Neolithic researchers face in interpreting figurine use in the world's ear- 
liest agricultural communities, and offers a limited critique of existing interpretive 
approaches. We conclude by returning to two points that need further exploration. 

First, why did Neolithic people represent ambiguity in the majority of their 
human figurines, and alternatively mark or not mark sex or gender attributes on a 
small percentage of human representations? There are several possible interpreta- 
tions, including the masking or emphasis of individual or structural differences to 
help negotiate social and economic changes experienced by these early agricultural 
communities in which we witness the initial development of storage technologies, 
surplus economy, and social differentiation. Similarly, these people may not have 
conceptualized male and female bodily differences as important aspects in their 
worldviews in understanding what it meant to be a person in a body. Conversely, 
these differences may have been crucially important in everyday interactions, 
and therefore they found it important to mask them in creating idealized social 
memories of the way life should be. 

A second question that future researchers should address is one posed by 
Ucko (1996): why make figurines at all? We can draw on ethnographic analogies of 
bodily representation in ritual and non-ritual contexts to help us address this 
question, as the topic obviously holds important implications for functionalist 
interpretations. In a related way, we can also ask, "Why make different types of fig- 
urines (human, zoomorphic, or geometric)?" We argue that there is a definite shift 
in the manufacture of these figurine classes through the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and 
that future exploration of this issue may enhance our understanding of the 

Posing this last question leads us to our second point for consideration: the con- 
tinued need for contextual analysis of figurines. We hope that it is clear that our 
own ability to make interpretations of these figurines is limited by the paucity of 
published contextual information. It is unfortunate that in many cases, the devel- 
opment of grand models and interpretations of Neolithic figurines is founded on a 
remarkably poor consideration of context and archaeological data. There is, for 
example, only limited understanding of the manufacture, use, and discard of fig- 
urines. While many interpretive models of the Neolithic use figurine data from sec- 
ondary sources and there is very little contextual data published from the southern 
Levantine contexts, we do not feel any need to be pessimistic. Among others, Voigt 
(2000) has demonstrated the utility of contextual studies of Neolithic figurines from 
Turkey and Iran, and has established a strong analytical approach that focuses on 
context. In conclusion, we believe that studies sensitive to context will provide new 


insights into the social, economic, and ritual world in which figurines were used in 
the past. 


We thank R. Bernbeck and S. Pollock for asking us to participate in this volume. 
M. Cochrane and A. Lowe provided assistance with the illustrations and data gath- 
ering. Discussions with M. Voigt, R. Joyce, S. Blum, G. Rollefson, O. Bar-Yosef, 
and several anonymous reviewers have been crucial to the development of this essay. 
While not agreeing with some of the concepts and interpretations presented in this 
essay, the constructive criticism and advice of all of these folks have immeasurably 
improved the clarity and organization of this essay. 


1 The context information for the human figurines from 'Ain Ghazal is currently available 
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The State: The Process of 
State Formation as Seen 
from Mesopotamia 


Jean-Daniel Forest 

In common thought, the archaic state is related in some way to ours. When con- 
ceiving of humankind as continuously progressing, evolving by developing more 
and more complexity, the archaic state may appear as some far-off ancestor, and 
the interest paid to it is the more natural as it left behind concrete evidence of 
its high level of civilization. Hence that endless fascination for Egypt and 
Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, China, Mexico, and Peru. For scholars the primi- 
tive state is a baffling topic: quite rare, it is the outcome of a far-reaching process 
that has to be explained. The question is not so much one of analyzing a particu- 
lar kind of polity, but rather of revealing the mechanisms which eventually led to 
its appearance. The process is a long-term one, which took place over millennia, 
and the whole trajectory must be considered rather than only its final stage. To put 
it another way, the nature of the state question is dynamic as well as systemic. Here 
I will consider mainly the dynamic aspect. 

That quest, already initiated in antiquity by Plato and Aristotle among others, 
was renewed during the 17th and 18th centuries by some philosophers, including 
Hobbes, Locke, and Hume in England, and Diderot, Montesquieu, and Rousseau 
in France, who contributed substantially to the elaboration of concepts we still use. 
During the 19th century, the West became more interested in remote cultures. It 
became concerned with its past through the study of ancient texts and remains, and 
it discovered "exotic" cultures through colonial ventures. It is at that time that sci- 
ences were constituted as separate fields, among which archaeology found its place. 
But archaeology at first had to excavate and classify a large series of data, and for 
that reason those who got involved in the question of the state were not archaeol- 
ogists but rather historians, jurists, economists, and sociologists including de 
Tocqueville (1805-59), Fustel de Coulanges (1830-89), Morgan (1818-81), 
Maine (1822-88), Marx (1818-83), Engels (1820-95), Spencer (1820-1903), and 


Durkheim (1858-1917). Since that time, the available data have expanded, but 
sociocultural anthropologists maintained their leadership over the subject, for their 
sources are more easily accessible and more directly exploitable than those of 
archaeology. Yet, every case within their reach has come under the influence of 
external and more evolutionarily developed entities, and they are therefore only by- 
products of a piece of history played out elsewhere. 

Fried (1967) is one of the first scholars to have considered the whole scale of 
the problem, for he was careful to distinguish between primary (pristine) and sec- 
ondary states. At the same time, he was well aware of the fact that primary states 
were quite rare and too ill-defined to ground his thought on, but he believed that 
the difficulty could be circumvented by replacing the missing data by cultural 
anthropological evidence, which he supposed to be equivalent. Unfortunately, there 
are drawbacks to such an approach. First, the evolutionary trajectory lasted for mil- 
lennia, even if the state proper (depending on how it is defined) appears quite 
abruptly. The historical perspective which would enable cultural anthropologists to 
perceive such long-term change is never available, so their reconstructions of the 
dynamics of evolution cannot but be inferential. Second, the "traditional" societies 
that we know at present are quite diverse, and not all can be representative to the 
same extent of the past societies which eventually led to the state. When using them 
to build his four-part scheme, Fried probably mingled different trajectories, and for 
reconstructing change used societies which had nothing to do with the particular 
line of evolution that led to the state. Third, the reconstruction of the whole tra- 
jectory supposed that every preliminary stage still has some equivalence in the world 
today. That is not the case (the city-state, for example, has completely disappeared), 
and Fried himself acknowledges the point when writing of stratified societies. So it 
becomes apparent that the origins of the pristine state escape the scope of cultural 
anthropology. In order to understand the process, its form, character, and rhythm, 
we must undertake the difficult study of those few cases which, whether they were 
used as models by other societies or not, nonetheless deeply influenced the history 
of surrounding societies. Knowledge about such ancient states depends entirely on 
archaeology. Ideally, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists should collaborate 
in the task, but both parties have become trapped in the particularisms of their 
respective fields and hardly understand each other. 

Archaeology is still handicapped by the very nature of its data and the time- 
consuming procedures that give access to them. It is at once clear that what we 
know about the different primary centers of evolution varies greatly from case to 
case. For example, the most ancient phases of development are ill-documented in 
Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China, so that it is very difficult to make comparisons, 
and at present, those centers can only be examined on their own. Mesopotamia is 
probably one of the most suitable cases for analysis. Second, the very complexity 
of the cases under study raises particular problems of representativeness. The data 
are quite diverse, and it is more difficult to acquire a significant part of them and 
to find the rarest kinds which often are at the same time the most spectacular. 
Within hierarchized societies, the elites represent but a very small part of society, 
so that chances are few for us to perceive them, through their tombs or their 


residences, for example. Third, our data are quite particular in that they are always 
material: architectural remains, objects, bones and botanical remains, and cultural 
deposits. Texts only appear within the most complex societies and at best inform 
us about a very late stage of the evolutionary trajectory. 

Archaeology has to give sense to its ambiguous data, and at present different atti- 
tudes prevail concerning how this is to be done - either arguing at one extreme that 
the data are forever mute or, at the other, that anything may be said about them. 
Both result in denying any interest to archaeology. Solutions do exist, but first it 
must be recalled that the process of reasoning which leads from raw data to inter- 
pretation always depends on analogy (Verhoeven, this volume). This means that rea- 
soning is grounded in experience, and knowledge accumulated through time, 
which may be used as a model. The critical point is to appeal to the best analogi- 
cal basis, the one most suitable for the question to be addressed. In everyday life, 
our common sense plays such a part, but it depends upon socialization, and this 
culturally defined baggage prevents us from understanding something truly differ- 
ent. For understanding past societies through the material remains they left, 
common sense is inappropriate, and it must be replaced by something better, to be 
found, in my opinion, in what our cultural anthropological colleagues have been 
able to learn from the "primitive" societies they have analyzed. The arbitrary fea- 
tures - superficial, in some ways - which make a culture particular have to be put 
aside and only structural features and underlying mechanisms retained. Only that 
way may comparisons be drawn through space and time. Ethnographic analogies 
are most useful for the "simpler" societies of the past, but this utility declines as 
the societies we study become more complex. In any case, cultural anthropological 
studies as a basis for analogy are much more suitable than common sense. 

It is as a specialist of archaic Mesopotamia that I will grapple here with the ques- 
tion of the origins of the state. My contribution is divided into four parts. After a 
brief overview of current theories, I present the main lines of Mesopotamian history, 
as we may reconstruct it at present. Then I consider what may be inferred from the 
analysis of specific data for understanding the evolutionary process in general and 
the formation of the state in particular. Finally, I come back to current theories in 
order to compare them to my conclusions. 

An Overview of Current Theories 

The particular phenomenon of the advent of the state has given rise to many inter- 
pretations that can only be considered here in a schematic way (cf. Haas 1982 for 
further details). First we must recall the two major options that divided 17th- and 
1 8th-century philosophers. The one side argued that the state was grounded in a 
social contract, the other that it was imposed by force. Later theories which sought 
to explain the advent of the state in Mesopotamia and elsewhere generally waver 
between the same poles - contract and constraint, or integration and conflict - even 
when combining elements of both. Most often, some particular element is put 
forward as a "prime mover," that is, as either an initial or a main factor, depend- 


ing on whether the determinant is conceived as being historical or structural. Such 
prime mover models have been criticized and have tended to be replaced by the 
idea of complex causality drawn from cybernetics, and exemplified by the work of 
Johnson, Wright, and Flannery (Flannery 1972; Wright and Johnson 1975; Wright 
1977). In my opinion, traditional theories still deserve some attention, but they have 
to be evaluated according to the quality of the available data and the analogical field 
employed in their formulation. 

The factors that have been drawn upon to explain the origins of the state are 
not numerous. They deal mainly with production and circulation of essential 
resources, demography, war, ideology and especially religion, social differentiation, 
and the quest for power. These features have been used to build networks of causal 
relationships, and differences between theories lie in the main elements chosen to 
construct the argument. With few exceptions (such as Spencer [1967], who brings 
war to the foreground), a prime place is granted to the economic roots of society. 
Agricultural practice, especially when irrigation is involved, has sometimes been 
taken as the prime determinant (Wittfogel [1957] is the best example), in the sense 
that the very conditions of production drive society to make needed organizational 
adjustments. But generally, agricultural constraints are linked to other features, such 
as trade and demography. Trade enables people to exchange local goods for prod- 
ucts that are not otherwise available. It creates relations of dependency among the 
social groups involved and necessitates organizational agencies in order that those 
relations be regular and ensured. Trade may take place at a regional scale, either 
because of the geographic juxtaposition of contrasting ecological zones (Sanders 
1976a, 1976b; Sanders et al. 1979) or because populations that live together exploit 
the environment in complementary ways, for example agriculturalists and pas- 
toralists (Johnson 1973; Wright and Johnson 1975). Trade may also function at a 
larger scale and give rise to the long-distance trade thesis, as developed by Childe 
for Mesopotamia and Rathje (1971, 1972) for central America. Demography is 
probably the most popular element drawn upon in scholars' explanations (Smith 
1972). The general idea is that demographic growth brings with it difficulties in 
meeting subsistence needs, resulting in an unbalanced situation between people and 
their environment, and hence the famous notion of "carrying capacity." "Demo- 
graphic pressure" is thought to have given rise to reactions which either drove 
people to intensify their production (Boserup 1965; Smith and Young 1972), 
promoted competition (Fried 1967:196-204), or induced war (Carneiro 1970, 

Whatever the scenario for explaining change - aspects of production, the desire 
to procure goods that were unavailable locally, or demographic pressure - centrali- 
zation, hierarchy, and inequality are presumed to develop, either because the situ- 
ation transformed those responsible into exploiters or because certain people found 
themselves with an opportunity to use their position for their own benefit (Adams 
1984:88). Depending on the point of view, the state may then be conceived in con- 
trasting ways. It may be seen as a solution for going beyond a dead-end economic 
situation, either through better organization (Service) or through conquest 
(Carneiro). Conversely, it may be viewed as a solution to class conflicts induced by 


an increasingly uneven distribution of wealth, a solution that benefits the elite 
(Childe 1936, 1942; Engels 1954; Fried 1967:235). But even granting that the state 
emerged spontaneously for practical reasons, it always remains somewhat ambigu- 
ous, being valued as both positive (from the point of view of organization) as well 
as negative (in terms of inequality) . 

The Mesopotamian Case 

Mesopotamia - the lower Tigris and Euphrates alluvial plain of southern Iraq - was 
a great center of pristine evolution. In the span of about five millennia, simple 
groups of villagers developed more and more complexity until the advent of a 
state-level polity. The Mesopotamian development is among the most ancient ones 
(along with Egypt), among the best documented after more than a century of exca- 
vations, and in my opinion the one to which our Western civilization is the most 
indebted. 1 

As previously explained, our data are mute and only make sense through analogy. 
In the present state of archaeological research, the choice of analogy is left to the 
judgment of each particular scholar, leading to contrasting conclusions. The par- 
ticular data base on which my own reconstruction of past social organization 2 rests 
seeks to replace common sense by anthropological knowledge that is structural in 
character. Nevertheless, that reconstruction remains quite personal, and it is not 
the only possible interpretation, as may be acknowledged by consulting other 
syntheses reflecting different approaches. 3 In any case, the explanations are 
not to be evaluated in terms of right or wrong, but rather according to their ability 
to make sense of or bring some order to a muddle of data, and so to help us grasp 
the past. 

Several "cultures" are implicated in the trajectory of change. They follow one 
another without a break and most probably do not involve any major change in 
the make-up of the population. The first, called Ubaid after a site near Ur, lasted 
for more than 2,500 years. Because of its duration, it has been subdivided into 
phases according to the evolution of pottery shapes and decoration. The most 
ancient levels (called Ubaid 0, because Ubaid 1-4 were already in use when these 
levels were discovered) have been brought to light at Tell el Oueili, north of the 
present day town of Nasiriyeh. These earliest levels may be dated to about 6500 
cal. B.C.E., but the levels that have been more extensively excavated (Ubaid and 
1) are somewhat later, around 6000 cal. B.C.E.They contained the foundations of 
granaries and private dwellings (figure 9.1). The dwellings are large, tripartite build- 
ings, comprising one main common room in the center and private apartments on 
both sides that may have been occupied respectively by an elder couple and a 
younger one with its children. Three generations might therefore have lived 
together, constituting a stem-family. That particular kind of family group indicates 
that we are already dealing with developed village societies, for in societies in which 
decision-making lies in the hands of family heads, the enlargement of the family 
group is intended to maintain some stability in the numbers of people who assume 




y -i- 

* -v- 






es a ■■e 

H G 

f£ B 



a a s b 










A Entrance 

B Staircase 

C Living-room 

D Private apartments 

E annexes 

Figure 9.1 Plan of an Ubaid-period house from Tell el Oueili (Ubaid 0, ca. 6000 cal B.C.E.) (author's 


Over time, Ubaidian social groups grew, so that they had to find political, social, 
and ideological solutions for dealing with larger populations. They developed a more 
pronounced hierarchy, so that the most recent phases of the Ubaid culture (Ubaid 
4-5) may be conceived as "chiefdoms," in which decision-making was taken over 
by a few lineage heads. By Ubaid 3 (ca. 5500-4500 cal B.C.E.), large tripartite 
buildings built on a terrace are found, with a central hall and a row of utilitarian 
rooms on both sides. They are probably assembly chambers, where eminent persons 
may have gathered in order to manage public affairs. The buildings became pro- 
gressively larger, their facades more elaborate, and their terraces higher, until they 
towered above the surroundings. We know hardly anything more, but our lack of 
data may be balanced in part by sources from northern Mesopotamia. There, 
around the end of the sixth millennium cal B.C.E., a local culture known as Halaf 
adopted Ubaidian features, and by so doing turned into what we call Northern 
Ubaid to distinguish it from the Ubaid proper. While the Halaf changed little, the 
Northern Ubaid (as well as the so-called Gawra culture which later takes over from 
it) evolved under the impulse of new values borrowed from its southern neighbor, 
and it continues along the trajectory that had already been experimented with by 
the Ubaid a millennium earlier. It follows that some knowledge about the fifth mil- 
lennium Ubaid may be gained from the northern culture of the fourth millennium. 
In this particular case, such a derivation is not problematic, for the secondary evo- 
lution in the north is directly induced by the primary center in the south in such a 
way that both cultures are intimately related, as would be the case between a copy 
and its original. 

At the site of Tepe Gawra, near Mosul, it may be ascertained that after a phase 
in which the family unit is of the stem-type (as in Ubaid 0-1, but with clearly dif- 
ferent house plans [cf. figure 9.2]), there comes another phase in which the nuclear 
family, living in small tripartite buildings, dominates. In order to minimize the 
numbers of people entitled to take decisions, decision-makers had to represent a 
larger group than ever before, and one that was too large to be sheltered in a single 
house. The stem-family, which had the same purpose at a lower level of integra- 
tion, ceased to be of interest, and the nuclear family (the minimal social unit) recov- 
ered the part it had played much earlier. Archaeology proves to be able to bear 
testimony to those people who concentrated the power of decision-making in their 
hands and who may be described as leading citizens. Some dwellings at Gawra stand 
out by their large size, the thickness of their walls, and the decoration of their 
facades, while some peculiarities in their plan show that they are much more open 
to the outside than is usually the case (figure 9.3). These are the residences of 
eminent persons, and it appears that, due to the functions they exercised, these 
people opened their houses to ordinary people who depended on them. At first, 
such fine residences were distributed throughout the settlement, but later they 
tended to occur in one spot at the top of the site. This means that leaders eventu- 
ally became aware of having more in common with each other than they had with 
ordinary people - they now constituted an elite. At their head, a prominent indi- 
vidual lived in a larger and more elaborate house, where he probably received his 
subordinates as well as his peers. But after some generations, one of these para- 



A Entrance 

B Staircase 

C Living-room 

D Private apartments 

Figure 9.2 Plan of an Ubaid-period house from Kheit Qasim (beginning of the fifth millennium cal 
B.C.E.) (author's original) 

mount leaders built an audience hall which, with its courtyards and granary, con- 
stituted the heart of a compound that was the prototype of a palace. The gradual 
hierarchization of society is also reflected by changes in burial practices, with status 
differences more and more accentuated and very wealthy tombs appearing at the 
end. Such pieces of evidence bear testimony to successive levels of a chiefdom, and 
no doubt the Ubaid in the south experimented with an evolution of the same kind. 
At about 4100/4000 cal B.C.E. the Ubaid culture was replaced by the Uruk (the 
change in terminology being based solely on the disappearance of painted pottery) 
which lasted until the end of the fourth millennium. Cities are now to be found, 
and the alluvial plain was soon divided into a series of small principalities, the popu- 
lations of which were mainly urban. These principalities have been called city-states. 



.■■ ::: : : .. | 

| £r;i miry 

Figure 9.3 Plan of a notable's residence and small tripartite houses from Gawra XII (Northern 
Ubaid, end of the fifth millennium cal B.C.E.) (after Tobler 1 950: PI. VIII) 

No doubt these are state-like formations, but, as will be explained below, they must 
be distinguished from the state proper. Hierarchy became more pronounced, even 
while the economic basis remained on the whole the same. A hereditary elite settled 
into place, with one individual of higher rank named as leader, or king. In order to 
mark its distinction, the elite had luxury goods manufactured for itself. Skilled 


craftsmen were therefore necessary, and demand was sufficient to promote inven- 
tiveness and the elaboration of new techniques. But most of all, rare materials were 
needed, which were to be found only abroad. By the middle of the fourth millen- 
nium, expeditions to distant areas were organized, and colonies were implanted in 
northern Syria in order to acquire precious ores, among other things, obtained from 
local populations in Anatolia. Some colonial towns, built where none previously 
existed and sometimes quite rapidly, bear witness to the most ancient urbanism. In 
order to accommodate waves of settlers, much organization was required: regular 
streets were laid out, occasionally with systems for draining sewage, and plots of 
land were distributed according to a process of allotment. The housing was quite 
uniform, comprised of several buildings distributed around a courtyard, with the 
house proper on one side and a large reception room on the other. The doubling 
of entryways as well as fireplaces indicates that the genders are now more markedly 
opposed within the family group. 

For control of the town, a council chamber, or town hall, was built on a high 
terrace or acropolis. The huge capitals in the south have been relatively little 
explored, but the late fourth millennium acropolis of Uruk has been excavated, 
revealing a series of buildings that show a degree of inventiveness that is never again 
found in later periods (figure 9.4). Those buildings are exceptional by their size 
(up to 4,600 sq. m), their plan, their technique (the use of gypsum, either let 
between planks or moulded), and their decoration (clay or stone cones, the colored 
heads of which were arranged to create geometric patterns) . Together these build- 
ings constitute a kind of palace, but one in which the different functional compo- 
nents were not yet integrated into a whole. Not far from this building, in the 
so-called "Anu-ziggurat" area, the "White Temple" was, like the "Painted Temple" 
at Uqair, actually a council room built on a high terrace, where eminent people 
(most probably lineage leaders) gathered in order to manage public affairs. Hence- 
forth the elite were relieved of agricultural labor for which they were dependent on 
commoners, because they were placed in charge of the community and assumed 
the function of ensuring the group's prosperity. Fields were placed at their disposal 
as well as workmen to cultivate them. Because those fields were large, new tech- 
niques were perfected, and the swing-plow, for example, was invented. The elite also 
had to dispense some goods in order to remunerate those to whom they were 
obliged as well as in exchange for imported materials. It is possibly for such pur- 
poses that large flocks of sheep were raised - for their wool rather than their meat 
- and spinning factories (which are explicitly mentioned in the texts of the subse- 
quent Early Dynastic period) were built. 

In the elite sphere, the flow of goods had to be supervised and controlled, and, 
because human memory was unable to grasp the sheer volume of this information, 
new techniques of management were invented: cylinder seals for certifying sealings, 
tokens for accounting, and writing (the medium for communicating a language 
called Sumerian [see Zimansky, this volume]) for keeping more detailed records. 
In order to ensure the cohesion of a larger society, new ideological tools were 
required as well. A whole set of figurative images appeared that exalted kingship, 
and temples were built to demonstrate the presence of the gods among mortals and 
therefore guarantee social order. New trends can be detected among commoners 

1 Temple aux mosaiques de cones 

2 I'alais carre 

3 Temple C 

4 "Hallenbau" 

5 Temple I) 

6 "Pleilerhalk" 

7 Bains 

8 ('our 
') "liiemcht'iigebaude" 

Figure 9.4 Plan of Eanna area of Uruk at the end of the fourth millennium B.C.E. (after Lenzen, 
as published in Amiet 1977:526) 


as well. The city had become so large that all of its inhabitants could not know one 
another. Anonymity was the rule as kinship ties weakened. The multiplication of 
needs, the diversity and elaboration of techniques made it difficult for people to 
make everything for themselves. For some aspects of everyday life, people tended 
to rely on others and, because kinship could not remain the sole reference, exchange 
increased, probably leading to the appearance of standards and of places where 
equivalents could be defined and normalized. 

The city-states of the alluvium were quite prosperous and active, but their very 
dynamism soon brought their interests into opposition and led them to rise up 
against one another. A climate of endemic war ensued, which became a character- 
istic of the following Early Dynastic period (third millennium B.C.E.). City walls 
were constructed, and weapons of copper or bronze became more frequent. Images 
were still closely bound to royal power (recalling that the king led, fed, and pro- 
tected his people), but war commanded more attention (as seen in the "Standard 
of Ur" and the "Stele of the Vultures" [figure 16.3]). The elite's needs for ostenta- 
tion were not reduced; to the contrary, long-distance trade with Iran, Afghanistan, 
Northern Syria, and Anatolia recovered after an earlier decline and spread in new 
directions, to the Gulf and the Indus Valley. Art and craftsmanship developed, as 
shown by the princely tombs of the Ur "Royal Cemetery," which contained hoards 
of luxury items made of gold, silver, and lapis, but which also give evidence of the 
gruesome practice of burying eminent people with all of their attendants. Palaces 
have been exposed, with compounds comprising the whole set of required func- 
tions, and temples of prime importance are known (at Khafajah, Al Hiba, Tell el 
Ubaid). 4 Built on top of high terraces in the middle of large enclosures, they towered 
above the towns around, demonstrating that the gods were looking after society. 
Some smaller buildings, at Khafajah and Tell Asmar, also considered to be temples, 
are more probably courtrooms where eminent people received their dependents and 
dealt with the common problems of the population. Written texts become more 
numerous and more easily understandable, but their interpretation is still tricky: 
for years scholars believed that temples were omnipresent in the economy of the 
Early Dynastic city-state, but recent analysis indicates that the texts are related 
rather to the administration of large estates held by lineages. Just as palaces of the 
time, the ordinary house integrates its different components better than houses 
of earlier periods, while still retaining the principle of a central courtyard. Abu 
Salabikh, a site more extensively explored than most, shows that a regular road 
system organized the urban texture and delimited belts of construction in which 
private houses were built side-by-side in four rows, with dead-end lanes serving the 
inner enclaves (Vallet 1999). 

War was a conventional practice not intended to destroy the opponent and take 
control of territory but rather to initiate a tributary relation. Before long the 
defeated city-state would recover its strength, and war resumed with renewed vigor. 
Centuries were necessary before the rise of the concept of hegemony and the idea 
of subduing the whole country. Such an exploit was achieved at about 2300 cal 
B.C.E. by Sargon, an individual from the northern part of the plain who spoke a 
Semitic language called Akkadian. Sargon and his successors transformed the army 


into a powerful instrument of domination and conquest, and war, or the threat of 
it, was at the basis of their regime. In such a framework, new elites formed, based 
on criteria of bravery and fighting efficiency, and quite different from the former 
statutory aristocracy. At the same time, the new kingdom was reorganized, agents 
were installed alongside local princes, the circulation of goods and information 
(through the imposition of the Akkadian language) was improved, new imagery was 
created, often representing files of prisoners of war, and an attempt was made 
to deify some kings. But we are now in the field of history proper rather than one 
of structure. 5 In any case, the Sargonic venture in some way puts an end to 
the evolutionary process as it had functioned up until then. What follows in 
Mesopotamian history is nothing but a lengthy variation around the same theme, 
until the advent of larger empires that went far beyond the Mesopotamian region 
and which proved to be much too ambitious to last very long. Indeed, it proves to 
be the case that any center of evolution tends to foster secondary dynamics around 
it, which are often related to the development of trade. In their desire for ostenta- 
tious status exhibition, Mesopotamian elites invested in obtaining precious materi- 
als from abroad. By so doing, they gave the culturally less complex societies they 
met the contingent opportunity to make use of the situation as well as the desire 
and ability to imitate the model they thereby discovered. Put in another way, the 
pristine center tends to initiate secondary polities around it, which come to be 
potential opponents that may ultimately imperil it. 

What is to be Gained from Such a Reconstruction? 

As simplified and tentative as it is, this overview gives us some idea of 
Mesopotamian evolution as we understand it at present and leads us toward the 
reasons for change, the evolutionary dynamics in general as well as the advent of 
the state proper. 

The opportunity to evolve in the direction of greater complexity first requires, 
at least in pristine situations, sedentism, agriculture, and animal husbandry. 
However, such neolithization, even when achieving full success, is not enough to 
generate an evolutionary dynamic, as shown by the extreme scarcity of centers of 
further development. It is significant in this regard that the Mesopotamian center 
did not develop in the areas (the Levant, Taurus, and Zagros foothills) where the 
neolithization process had taken place. As a second prerequisite, population growth 
is needed. It cannot be properly demonstrated, but no doubt such growth did occur, 
for it is a normal consequence of the new mode of production. With high infant 
mortality, people endeavor to have as many children as they can, in order to have 
helpers during their active years and to be sustained later in their lives. It is a kind 
of exchange of services between generations, somewhat like our own old-age 
pension schemes. But here again, population growth is not the whole explanation, 
for many groups of villagers have continued until the present day without having 
changed in any structural way (although their cultural features, arbitrary and super- 
ficial as they are, may very well have changed) . The roots of evolutionary dynam- 


ics are ultimately to be found in the fact that members of some groups stay together 
despite their increasing numbers, whereas most village societies are segmentary, that 
is, they separate and found new settlements. Such a behavioral difference is induced 
by the mode of production and ultimately by peculiarities in the environment. In 
the most common case of dry farming, there are few environmental constraints, 
and relatively small human groups are quite easily able to survive. As a result people 
prefer to split up, rather than to face the problems that community growth might 
engender. Such societies exhaust their vitality by expanding spatially and therefore 
have no reason to change. On the other hand, when societies settle in some areas 
where agriculture requires more investment and greater collaboration (as may be 
the case with irrigated agriculture), they do not fission and instead have to solve 
the practical problems induced by their growth. 

Here therefore is the scenario I propose: when, at the outset of the pre-pottery 
Neolithic (eighth millennium B.C.E.), the new mode of production was fully assimi- 
lated (implying the reorganization of kinship, alliance, and beliefs), the experience 
thereby acquired was soon adopted by hunter-gatherers living in inhospitable areas 
of Mesopotamia. The societies which then developed here and there in the Near 
East shared many features (and might be compared to many present-day societies): 
sedentarism, agriculture (wheat and barley), and animal husbandry (sheep, goat, 
cattle, pig), but also the tendency to promote childbirth. Nevertheless, natural con- 
ditions had enough influence on their mode of production for them to react in dif- 
ferent ways. The few whose members had to collaborate more closely for common 
survival renounced segmentariness and therefore were obliged to find new politi- 
cal, social, and ideological solutions to deal with growing population. Evolutionary 
dynamics are basically adaptive in character, in the sense that they are related to 
the necessity to react to changes induced by peculiarities in the natural setting and 
hence the mode of production. As time goes by, it becomes more difficult to revert 
to former situations. When an irrigation network has been built and improved for 
centuries or millennia, nobody is likely to cast off such a heritage and start over 
again without endangering his or her way of life and without being condemned to 
radical adjustments implying renouncement of numerous cultural attainments. This 
difficulty does not depend only on agricultural practice: society is structured by 
kinship networks which constitute a social net, including the possibility of finding 
a spouse, a political system which ensures order and common security, and monu- 
ments which are the manifestation of society's prosperity. In a word there is a series 
of advantages, either actual or perceived, which tend to dissuade people from 
leaving the group. Conversely, the largest settlements - more prosperous, better 
organized, and provided with more impressive buildings - may be conceived as poles 
of attraction, able to draw people to them from surrounding areas. The growth 
of human groups therefore accelerated, and this prompted them to become more 
organized in order to manage problems that arose. 

The topic of the state proper is another matter. Taken here as a particular kind 
of society, the state is not something one recognizes at the outset, but a concept 
that depends upon the perspective adopted. It needs a definition that is necessarily 
relative to other kinds of societies, other state formations (for example, present-day), 


or a particular field. A definition implies a process of classification, that is, the dis- 
tribution of a limited series of data into separate categories according to some spe- 
cific aim. In the present case, the field to be explored is Mesopotamia, which does 
not prevent using the conclusions to examine other pristine cases. 

Everyone would agree on granting the state a high degree of complexity. That 
term does not necessarily mean that a situation is complicated or difficult to tackle 
(although that may well be the case), but rather that it is composite and multiform, 
referring, for example, to a wider range of social positions and behaviors, a greater 
diversity among (political, religious, administrative) agencies, and therefore larger 
sets of building and object categories. Indeed, it is through material that complex- 
ity may be perceived, among other things through: 

• site distribution, for larger settlements tend to repel smaller ones, not so much 
because they need a sizeable territory, but rather because they tend to attract 
inhabitants of surrounding villages; 

• architecture, with achievements requiring a large collective investment, special- 
ized buildings (temples, administrative units), highly differentiated dwellings 
(from palaces to simple houses), features indicating particular relations within 
society (the family retires within its house) and the family (genders are more 
strongly contrasted); 

• burial practices, with a larger range of possibilities, in particular more elaborate 
and wealthier tombs, occasionally human "sacrifices"; 

• craftsmanship, with a trend toward specialization and innovation, the multi- 
plication of prestige goods (for keeping the elite content), often the use of pre- 
cious materials from abroad, but also more standardized and occasionally mass 

• new techniques of management (cylinder seals, tokens, writing). 

These features, and many others, reflect particular social relations that imply dis- 
tance, either vertical (hierarchy) or horizontal (anonymity) . It is only at a very late 
stage of the evolutionary process that those features are supplemented by written 
texts which may throw some light on social organization, politics, ideology and 
much else, but they are often anecdotal and ambiguous. In any case, complexity 
was growing in Mesopotamia as early as the Ubaid period, increasing in Uruk and 
Early Dynastic times, and culminating with the Akkadian kingdom. There were dif- 
ferent stages of local evolution, each requiring its own label. Many scholars con- 
sider the state to have appeared in Uruk times. Such a position may be maintained, 
but with the disadvantage of obscuring the specific characters of subsequent poli- 
ties. That is why I prefer to distinguish the city-state and the state proper, reserv- 
ing the latter term for Sargon's unification of the country at about 2300 cal B.C.E. 
It is not only because there is a drastic change of scale, but mainly because the 
sources of change are completely different than before. Until that time, access to 
higher levels of integration had been based upon internal mechanisms, slow and 
invisible to anyone; change was collectively assumed through initiatives grounded 


in the opacity of habitus (Bourdieu 1990), a kind of general agreement stemming 
from long tradition. Conversely, it is through brute force that Sargon imposed a 
new order, and his undertaking, violent and painful, was based on an initiative of 
its own, which lay at the extreme fringes of habitus. He took on his hegemony quite 
self-consciously, whatever might have been the actual circumstances which led him 
to conceive such extremes and rendered them possible. The city-state thus appears 
as the final outcome of a normal evolutionary process: every principality had 
become too structured to give rise peacefully to any further development. The state 
became an ultimate means of finding a solution - in a transgressive way - to evo- 
lutionary mechanisms that could not play out further. Change was provided by an 
historical event, but it still belongs to structure in the sense that the stalemated situ- 
ation required an answer. No matter that the solution was brought about by an 
individual called Sargon rather than someone else. Indeed, others before him (such 
as Lugalzaggesi) had already tried their luck, with less success. It is also to be noted 
that the state associated with Sargon and his successors is quite invisible archaeo- 
logically and would remain in darkness, had we no texts. 


Finally, we may compare this reconstruction of a particular case to current theo- 
ries. The traditional opposition between contract and constraint is not, in my 
opinion, completely satisfactory, for any society is built upon habitus. A process of 
socialization is at work beginning at birth, leading to some degree of assimilation 
to current standards, however non-egalitarian they might be. At the same time, indi- 
vidual initiatives that lead to change depend primarily on what Bourdieu refers to 
as strategies without a strategist. Being the outcome of habitus, they are perceived 
as normal and do not draw attention; they are so numerous that none is able to 
measure the scope of their rationality; most of all, people neither know how much 
they are dependent upon their ancestors' choices, nor that their own choices bind 
their descendants. In this way, the notions of contract and constraint fade behind 
the enormous opacity of time and numbers. But if I had to choose between those 
perspectives, the consensual version would clearly get my approbation for the spon- 
taneous evolution preceding the brutal advent of the state. Any society implies some 
rules (of kinship, alliance, and so on) that rest on the power of some individuals to 
make decisions (men as opposed to women and children, lineage heads, the elite). 
Those people who for some time enjoy power constitute what might be called the 
structure of control of society, which is intended to manage the interests of the 
group as a whole. That structure, either informal and diffuse or organized (the state 
apparatus, for example), ensures social reproduction on all planes (production, bio- 
logical reproduction, standards) through particular practices (exchange of women, 
sharing or redistribution of goods) intended to keep everything as it should be. For 
the individual, society is therefore providential, in the sense that we may speak of 
the welfare state. Nevertheless, order is not inconsistent with inequality and 


exploitation (of women by men, youth by elders, society by elites), for individual 
interest is always subordinate to the common one. The structure of control is less 
to ensure individual well-being than to preserve social stability. 

After Sargon, a new general agreement appeared, and the UrIII Dynasty 
hastened to lay claim to the heritage of the Akkadian kingdom and to improve on 
its main achievements by constructing a managerial, rather than a warlike, state. 
The Sargonic venture was in some ways a parenthesis, a breach in the consensual 
network of history, even if it came from a distortion of the habitus under the weight 
of circumstances. Nevertheless, the new concept of hegemony on the one hand and 
the development of secondary polities on the periphery of the alluvium on the other 
promoted war as the prime motor of change. The evolutionary process faded behind 
an eventful history until an ultimate level of integration appeared - the empire. 
From this point of view, the Sargonic venture may be conceived as a definitive 
rupture. In any case, it was revolutionary, because the passage to a higher level of 
integration rested upon unprecedented mechanisms. 

The appraisal of current theories depends on the definition of the state. It 
depends as well on the perspective taken, whether one has in mind the long evo- 
lutionary process leading to the state or the advent, in a relatively short time, of the 
state proper. On the whole these two approaches are rarely distinguished, for most 
scholars imagine rapid change, implying historical rather than structural factors. I 
am, in any case quite sceptical about theories which adopt the conflictual perspec- 
tive and argue that some people strove to control the basic resources of their own 
group. Traditional societies are very reluctant to control people through material 
(land, water, or tools). Indeed, it is much easier and much more efficient to use 
networks of relations and ideology. Within village societies the ability to control any- 
thing is a matter of status. The authority of an elder comes not from the fact that 
he controls supplies, tools, or women, but from the fact that he is an elder. It is his 
status in the group according to genealogical criteria which leads him to exert 
certain managerial and organizational responsibilities. The same holds true for 
complex societies, such as the third millennium city-states. The elite, as defined by 
standards of that time, was maintained for the services it performed, just as are the 
state and public offices at present. There need be no justification given to the popu- 
lation (at most some proofs of efficiency), and nothing to be sought after that the 
elite did not already have. From this point of view, there is no need to suppose that 
people are searching for power; rather, it is spontaneously given to them. Power 
may be the target of an individual, but only within the small group which already 
possesses it. When a king has canals dug, he is playing his part as guarantor of 
common prosperity, and the ability to gather public labor for the occasion proves 
that power is in his hands. On this point, I agree with Service (1975:8): "Political 
power organized the economy, not vice versa. The system was redistributive, alloca- 
tive, not acquisitive. Personal wealth was not required to gain personal political 
power. And these first governments seem clearly to have reinforced their structure 
by doing their economic and religious jobs well - by providing benefits - rather 
than by using physical force." On the other hand, Sargon's conquest by force is con- 
trary to traditional principles. His action, made possible only by a degraded situa- 


tion and habitus gone adrift, shows clearly that the growing influence of personal 
motivations is the consequence rather than the cause of change. 

Many scholars argue that the state solves - to the benefit of the elite - class con- 
flicts induced by the uneven distribution of wealth (Childe 1936:115-116, 
1942:106-107, 124-125; Engels 1954; Fried 1967:230). But by considering the 
Mesopotamian case, it is clear that the state (as I have defined it) is detrimental to 
elite interests. It puts power into the hands of people who, until then, were kept far 
from it and in that way deprives the local elite of part of its revenue. The new 
social order is in no way more egalitarian than before, and it does not change any- 
thing but gives power to people who have not been chosen according to the usual 
rules. It does not let commoners speak, but makes right of might. The state does 
not solve class conflict, and it may be thought that, in a world where the individ- 
ual hardly counted, forces of integration were usually strong enough to prevent 
popular uprisings. If the state solved any conflict, it was the endemic one among 

The models elaborated in the consensual perspective are more interesting, but 
some nuancing is necessary. Society is supposed to organize itself to solve material 
problems: difficulties in the mode of production (in particular in the case of irri- 
gation), environmental deficiencies, and problems related to population growth. The 
mode of production is of prime importance, but mainly when agriculture and 
animal husbandry were adopted by people living in the alluvial plain and adapted 
to local conditions. The social order which then emerged conformed to the logic of 
the new mode of production and irrigation played a major part, for it contributed 
to the emergence of a habitus which promoted integration and, by so doing, evo- 
lution. Irrigation is only related very indirectly to the advent of the state, nearly 
5,000 years later. Adams (1965:40-41, 1966:66-68, 1982) explains that in 
Mesopotamia large waterworks are developed long after the state, while Gibson 
(1974) argues that irrigation leads to nothing but economic disaster. Without going 
that far, it is obvious that a society uses irrigation according to its means as well as 
its needs (Fernea 1970; Downing and Gibson 1974). As early as the seventh mil- 
lennium, Ubaidian villagers mastered (irrigated) agriculture, and the basis of the 
economy was firm, so that the reasons for change are to be found elsewhere, related 
to population growth. 

I am quite prepared to acknowledge the prime importance of population growth, 
but not for the reasons currently put forward. Population growth, as a logical con- 
sequence of the mode of production, is much too common to explain anything. 
Boserup (1965) rightly observes that traditional societies are reluctant to modify 
their agricultural practices, because increasing production through intensification 
would involve more time and labor. For new practices to appear, people need strong 
motivations, and Boserup thinks that those are to be found in demographic pres- 
sure. In my opinion, growth has never been sufficient to induce such pressure, and 
the concept of carrying capacity may be applied only to exceptional situations. 
Although in favor of Boserup's thesis, Sanders admits, "Calculations of the carry- 
ing capacity of regions and measures of population sizes of prehistoric populations 
living in these regions usually show population levels well below carrying capacity" 


(1984:23). In Mesopotamia, in any case, there is no trace of change in agricultural 
practice until the fourth millennium, with the introduction of the swing-plow, which 
is related to the size of lands allotted for elite maintenance. 

In the same vein, Carneiro's thesis is in some way an extreme, for the conquest 
of one society by another means that the latter has been unable to solve its local 
problems of production. When the Mesopotamian city-states engaged in war, it was 
not so much because their economic basis was in danger, but because they became 
competitors in particular fields that interested the elite. In the same way, Sargon's 
conquest of Mesopotamia was not related to an imbalance between people and 
environment, for the Mesopotamian population remained the same whether unified 
or not. While the advent of the state was based upon force, the reasons, already 
alluded to, bear no relation to problems of subsistence. The important point is not 
population growth itself, but the neglected fact that people stay together for prac- 
tical reasons: social structure changes in order to accommodate groups, according 
to the ways defined by habitus. 

While the demographic argument may be revamped, the trade one lacks any 
foundation. It is quite clear that any traditional society, whatever its mode of pro- 
duction, relies primarily on its environment for its survival. Any other solution is 
inconceivable, be it only for practical reasons. It is very difficult for traditional agri- 
culture to produce enough surplus to participate significantly in the maintenance 
of neighboring groups. Even assuming that irrigation, with its greater yields, might 
make it possible - although sowing and harvesting impose unavoidable constraints 
- the movement of goods would have to face the weakness of the means of trans- 
portation. As Trigger rightly emphasizes (1972:580), "Pre-industrial technologies 
by their very nature impose narrow limitations on the degree to which agricultural 
production may be intensified and goods may be transported." No society may 
survive through trade, and we must abandon Childe's view, which relates the advent 
of the state to the need for locally absent basic resources (wood, ores, stone, flint), 
procured in exchange for grain produced in excess for that purpose. For centuries, 
Ubaidian people imported nothing but bitumen, obsidian, and possibly a few types 
of stones they needed for adornment. They had enough wood for their everyday 
needs, and they even had stone (Boehmer 1984), but it was much easier to use mud 
brick as a building material. They probably obtained flint from the western desert. 
The goods they imported were in no way essential, but they might be viewed as 
advantageous in some way. At the same time, the circulation of these goods by 
"down-the-line" exchange enabled people neither to modulate demand nor to 
obtain any large quantity of them. The trade network developed only with the advent 
of complex societies during the fourth millennium. The conditions of that trade 
were quite different, and its function was to satisfy the needs of the elite. Imported 
goods were primarily raw materials for producing luxury goods, the circulation of 
which was carefully restricted, rather than goods for everyday consumption. It was 
hierarchy that gave rise to substantial long-distance trade and not vice versa. As 
articulated by Trigger (1972:585), "Because of the high cost of transportation in 
non-industrial societies, long distance trade is restricted mainly to goods and ma- 
terials that are of great value or can be produced only in limited areas." 



The Mesopotamian state emerged about 5,000 years later than the first villages in 
the area. We may trace the slow evolution leading to the state and isolate six levels 
of organization prior to the state proper. Each may be characterized by its most 
salient feature: 

• in simple village societies decisions concerning the group were taken in common 
by heads of nuclear families under the care of an elder; 

• in complex village societies stem families appeared in order to limit the numbers 
of people responsible, and the right to take decisions was temporarily delegated 
to certain individuals until the elders were replaced by new generations; 

• in simple chiefdoms authority was further concentrated, and responsibilities 
were delegated to a few individuals (probably lineage heads) selected according 
to genealogy, so that the basic social unit reverts to the nuclear family; 

• in complex chiefdoms the same responsible people became isolated from com- 
moners and formed a class of their own; 

• city-states were characterized by the appearance of hereditary, royal power; 

• city-states ran into difficulties and ultimately declined as rivalry and 
warfare arose among them, problems that were solved only through Sargon's 

The criteria that differentiate these levels of organization depend on what I have 
called the structure of control of society. Such a perspective resulted from the sense 
that the most salient features of the data (whether architecture, burials, or movable 
items) allude to particular individuals whose status led to prestige and authority. 
This allows the unambiguous detection of the ranking of society, status differentia- 
tion, and corresponding responsibilities. The evolution of the structure of control 
towards greater hierarchy was not intentional and therefore cannot be attributed to 
a search for personal achievement. It is the society which, through its members and 
especially the most eminent ones, adopts the most appropriate solutions for mas- 
tering problems encountered, in particular the necessity of integrating increasing 
numbers of people. Indeed, the mode of production encourages population growth, 
while particular environmental conditions incite people to stay together. If the rela- 
tions between people and their environment thus appear so strong as to seem 
deterministic, it is because they are based upon numerous personal reactions which, 
leading in the same direction, tend to exclude any random drift. As Bourdieu put 
it (1990:55-6), "being the product of a particular class of objective regularities, the 
habitus tends to generate all the 'reasonable', 'common-sense' behaviors (and only 
these) which are possible within the limits of these regularities, and which are likely 
to be positively sanctioned because they are objectively adjusted to the logic char- 
acteristic of a particular field, whose objective future they anticipate. At the same 
time, 'without violence, art or argument', it tends to exclude all 'extravagances' 
. . . , that is, all the behaviors that would be negatively sanctioned because they 
are incompatible with the objective conditions." 


As society increases in size, its structure of control must be reorganized. Insofar 
as responsible people are nominated according to general agreement (e.g., 
genealogical order), the trend towards inequality is due only to the need to face 
demographic changes. One of the most noteworthy implications of such a process 
is urbanization. In my opinion, the pristine state cannot come into being without 
some preliminary phase of urbanization, because it is the failing of integration at 
the urban stage that leads to state formation. The city-states of the alluvial plain 
became too similar to one another and too structured for a higher level of integra- 
tion to appear spontaneously, and their vitality was consumed in enduring conflicts 
- until an exceptional leader took advantage of the situation to set up a new order 
for his own benefit. 


1 In the near future, I will be publishing a volume specifically devoted to particular aspects 
of that debt (Forest in press). 

2 A much more detailed account of that reconstruction, with many bibliographic refer- 
ences, may be found in Forest (1996). 

3 For example, Adams (1966), Redman (1978), Nissen (1988), Maisels (1990, 1999), 

Frangipane (1996), Pollock (1999), Charvat (2002). 

4 Forest (1999). 

5 For further details, cf. Liverani, ed. (1993). 


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crazia nella Grande Mesopotamia. Padua & Bari: Laterza. 

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culture, Cities, and the State in the Near East. London: Routledge. 

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bridge University Press. 

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Archaeology, Bible, and the 
History of the Levant in 
the Iron Age 

Israel Finkelstein 

The questions of the historicity of the biblical narrative on ancient Israel and the 
ability of archaeology to contribute toward a better understanding of the text have 
hovered like black clouds over both academic research and public discussion for 
decades (see Yahya, this volume). The debates have been influenced not only by 
academic research in the fields of archaeology and biblical studies, but also by larger 
cultural and historical processes (see also Bernbeck, this volume). In recent years 
we have seen a new "high tide" in the discussion, this time focusing on the problem 
of the United Monarchy and in a way on the question of the validity of the entire 
historical narrative in the Bible (Davies 1992; Lemche 1994:165-190; Thompson 
1999). ' 

Since so much is at stake here, the scholarly discussion has drifted into a bad- 
tempered debate, characterized, unfortunately, by harsh language and name calling. 
Together with the offensive language have come the generalizations: one is expected 
to be a "nihilist" or a "fundamentalist"; nothing in between. For a while it seemed 
that the center had disappeared. But the fact of the matter is, that one should dis- 
tinguish between at least three - not two - camps. 

Scholars in the conservative camp follow the biblical text on the history of Israel 
in the way the ancient writers wanted us to read it, that is, as a reliable record of 
Israel's history, narrated in sequential chronological order from earlier to later 
periods. 2 Conservative scholars agree that the biblical materials - be they the 
Pentateuch ("The Five Books of Moses") or the Deuteronomistic History (the 
books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) - got their final shape relatively late 
in the history of Israel, in late-monarchic and post-Exilic times (seventh to fifth cen- 
turies B.C.E.).Yet, many would still claim a tenth-ninth century date for the crys- 
tallization of much of the material in the Pentateuch and would also argue that in 
both literary works the later redactors incorporated early traditions and even older 
written sources. True, only a few in the conservative camp would still try to iden- 
tify a "Period of the Patriarchs" in the second millennium B.C.E. or to explain a 


destruction of a major Late Bronze city as an outcome of the Israelite conquest of 
Canaan. 3 Yet, many would still read the description of the Exodus on a New 
Kingdom background (Frerichs and Lesko 1997; Sarnah 1999:33-54; Malamat 
2001:57-67), and all scholars in this camp would stand behind the biblical por- 
trayal of a glorious "United Monarchy" of David and Solomon (Mazar 
1990:368-402; Dever 2001). 

Scholars belonging to the radical camp date the texts to the Persian or Hellenistic 
Period and see the description of ancient Israel as strongly influenced by the ide- 
ology, needs, and realities of these later times (Davies 1992; Lemche 1993:163-193; 
Lemche 1994; Thompson 1999). Hence they minimize - if not discount altogether 
- the historical value of the biblical description of Ancient Israel, preferring to see 
it as an entirely ideological - and almost entirely fictional - work of the Jerusalem 
Temple establishment in these later periods. 

The third camp - where I belong - though positioned in the center, is far 
from both poles. Scholars in this camp accept a late-monarchic or Exilic date 
(seventh or sixth centuries B.C.E.) for a large portion of the Pentateuch and much 
of the Deuteronomistic History. Hence they acknowledge the value of these 
texts as preserving real evidence on the history of Israel in monarchic times. 
However, they see the stories - in the way they are presented in the text - as highly 
ideological and adapted to the needs of the community during the time of the 
compilation. Hence, the most meaningful difference from the conservative camp 
is that the adherents to the center camp tend to read the texts in an opposite 
"direction" - seeing evidence of later periods in the descriptions of Israel's 
early history. In other words, they try to understand them in their historical 
context as creative compositions, rather than objective facts (Van Seters 1983; 
Niemann 1993; Finkelstein and Silberman 2001). This does not mean that the 
texts have no historical value, but it does mean that in many cases they tell us 
more about the society and politics of the writers than about the times described 
in them. 

Before I continue, I wish to pause and briefly clarify my views on the question 
of dating the texts. Since the 19th century, it has become clear that the Old Testa- 
ment (OT) texts were not written at the time of the events they relate and that 
various sources can be identified for both the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic 
History. Regarding the Pentateuch, I accept the main outline of the Documentary 
Hypothesis, in contrast to scholars - mainly German - who have recently started 
drifting away from it. 4 For reasons which stem from the realm of archaeology, and 
which will be partially disclosed later, I would date J (the Pentateuch source which 
uses the tetragrammaton YHWH for the God of Israel) to the seventh century 
B.C.E. - later than the ninth-eighth centuries B.C.E. date recently given in 
Friedman (1999), and a bit earlier than the Exilic date advocated by Van Seters 
(1992). J deals first and foremost with the centrality and superiority of Judah over 
its neighbors - Israelites and non-Israelites alike. It provides a common early history 
for all Israel and delineates the ethnic lines between the "we" (Judah) and the 
"them" (all the others). As such it is soaked with the ideology of late-monarchic 
Judah. And I would support those scholars who argue that P (the Priestly source 


in the Pentateuch) has a late-monarchic layer (from the late seventh or early sixth 
century B.C.E.), though in the main it is a post-Exilic work (of the fifth century 
B.C.E.) (Haran 1981:321-333; Hurvitz 2000:180-191). 

Regarding the Deuteronomistic History, 5 I adhere to the "Harvard school" of 
Frank Cross and his students, that is, to a Josianic (after the name of Josiah king 
of Judah, who ruled from 639 to 609 B.C.E.) date for the first "edition" 
of the History labeled "Dtrl" and an Exilic date for the second, final edition, 
labeled "Dtr2" (Cross 1973:274-288; Nelson 1981b; Halpern and Vanderhooft 
1991:179-244; Mckenzie 1991). As I will try to demonstrate later, archaeology 
can strongly support this view and seriously undermine many of the arguments 
of the Gottingen school, which would break the Deuteronomistic History into 
several sources, all dating after the fall of Jerusalem (Smend 1971; Dietrich 1972; 
Veijola 1977). 

This means that I would support biblical scholars who argue for a thematic and 
chronological relationship between the two great literary works, the Pentateuch and 
the Deuteronomistic History. 6 1 would see big portions of both of them as supply- 
ing the ideological platform for the political program of Judah in later monarchic 
times. I refer to the Pan-Israelite idea, which, to the best of my understanding, first 
surfaced in a full-blown shape at that time. It argued that the Davidic kings, with 
their seat of power in the city of Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, 
are the only legitimate heirs to the territories of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, 
which was vanquished by the Assyrians in the late eighth century B.C.E., and to 
the leadership over the Israelites still living in these territories, and that the cult of 
all Israelites should be centralized in the Temple in Jerusalem. As such, the texts 
are highly ideological, on both the theological and political levels. They represent 
the point of view of one faction of the Judahite society (we have no idea if it ever 
formed the majority in late-monarchic times); they certainly do not represent the 
Northern Kingdom of Israel or, what Morton Smith called years ago, the 
"syncretistic" ideas in Judah (Smith 1971). We can only imagine how different a 
history of Israel would be if written by scribes from the Northern Kingdom or by 
other factions of the Judahite society, had they survived. 

As highly ideological texts, even the treatment of periods close in date to the 
time of the compilation cannot be read uncritically. A good example can be found 
in the treatment of the "Assyrian century" in the history of Judah (Naaman 
1991:55-160; Naaman 1994:235-254). In most of this period Judah was ruled by 
three kings: father, son, and grandson. The first, Ahaz, is depicted as a sinner and 
as one who cooperated with the Assyrians and compromised Judah's independence. 
His son Hezekiah is described as the second-most righteous king from the lineage 
of David and as a hero who stood firmly and courageously against Assyria. The 
Deuteronomistic Historian makes a special effort to hide the fact that Judah 
remained under Assyrian domination many years after the "miraculous" rescue of 
Jerusalem from the Assyrians. The grandson, Manasseh, who ruled in Jerusalem 
over half a century, is described as the most evil of all apostates and head of all 
villains. Dtr2 (see above) flatly puts the responsibility for the fall of Jerusalem on 
his head. 


Archaeology has given us a completely different story - or at least a completely 
different perspective on Judahite affairs. Ahaz saved Judah from the bitter fate of 
the Northern Kingdom and incorporated it into the Assyrian economy. His policy 
led Judah to an unprecedented prosperity, in which Jerusalem and Judah experi- 
enced dramatic demographic growth. This was the time when Jerusalem expanded 
to the western hill (Broshi 1974:21-26). Judah apparently participated in the 
Assyrian-led Arabian trade and, as a result, the Beer-sheba valley flourished (Singer- 
Avitz 1999:3-74). In contrast, Hezekiah took a reckless decision to rebel against 
Assyria and was therefore responsible for the events that led to the utter devasta- 
tion of Judah (Halpern 1991:11-107). Archaeology demonstrates the extent of 
the catastrophe. Almost every site excavated in the Shephelah and the Beer-sheba 
valley revealed evidence for destruction (Naaman 1979:61-86; Ussishkin 1982). 
The Shephelah - the bread basket of Judah - never recovered from the shock; 
surveys reveal the dramatic decrease in the number of settlements there in the 
seventh century. 

Again in contrast, archaeology shows us that Manasseh saved Judah from anni- 
hilation. Under his realpolitik of cooperation with Assyria, the Southern Kingdom 
emerged from the ashes, was reincorporated into the Assyrian economy, and 
reached an unprecedented prosperity. Judah increased its role in the Assyrian-led 
southern trade and the Beer-sheba valley experienced a record settlement density 
(Finkelstein 1994:169-187). And Judah must have been the main supplier of olives 
for the extensive Assyrian oil industry at Tel Miqne-Ekron (Gitin 1987:81-97); as 
a result, the Shephelah at least partially recovered. Ostraca, seals and seal impres- 
sions, weights, and other finds indicate that in Manasseh's days Judah reached full 
statehood and an impressive literacy rate (Jamieson-Drake 1991; Finkelstein 

The lesson here is clear and simple. If a period so close to the compilation of 
the text shows such a great gap between the heavy ideological intent of the text and 
the more nuanced economic and social content of the finds, one should be even 
more cautious when dealing with the description of earlier periods, in which the 
Deuteronomistic Historian could have been even freer to advance his ideology, as 
the memory of the real events was much vaguer. Let us take the Northern Kingdom 
as an example. The Deuteronomistic Historian treats Israel in a highly negative way, 
making every effort to diminish its importance and delegitimize its very existence. 
At the same time, he contends that the Israelite population in the territories of the 
Northern Kingdom does belong to the "nation." One could almost argue that in 
order to learn about the real Northern Kingdom, we need to turn the Deuterono- 
mistic description upside down. The period of the Omrides (the Israelite dynasty 
of Omri, Ahab, and the sons of the latter) is especially distorted. The text paints 
the Omrides as apostates and villains. It does not mention their military power and 
only vaguely refers to their great building activities. Without archaeology - in 
the broader sense - we would never know about Ahab's great chariot forces (from 
Shalmaneser III king of Assyria), about the Omrides' conquests in Moab (from the 
stele of Mesha, king of Moab in Trans Jordan), about their expansion to the north 


(from the Tel Dan stele, erected by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus), and about 
their Herodian-like building achievements at Samaria, Jezreel, Hazor, and Megiddo 
(Finkelstein 2000:127-128). Without archaeology we would never know that the 
Omrides established the first real territorial state in the Levant, a state which 
covered both highlands and lowlands, with their varied populations, a state which 
engaged in intensive trade with Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the south (Finkelstein 

Once we become aware of the fact that the texts are relatively late in date, and 
that they tell the stories from the subjective point of view of the needs of the writers, 
then we can acknowledge the tremendous power of archaeology as the real-time 
witness to the events. Archaeology, which in past years was almost completely sub- 
jected to the text and used mainly to "decorate" the stories, is now taking the lead 
in writing the history of ancient Israel. 

First, there is the formative period, where archaeology is the only witness. The 
conquest and judges stories, even if containing a few vague memories of heroic 
events - mythological or real - are almost completely expressions of the political 
and theological ideology of Josianic times (Nelson 1 98 la:53 1-540; Van Seters 
1990: 1-1 2; Younger 1990; Finkelstein and Silberman 2001). The Bible, then, pro- 
vides only those impressions of the rise of Early Israel that the late-monarchic writer 
wanted to - or could - give us. Only archaeology can tell us about the material 
culture of the Iron I sites in the highlands, about the dispersal of their settlements, 
about their economy and about their relationship with their neighbors. And it gives 
us the long-term perspective on the demographic history of the highlands, which 
reveals the origin of the settlers in the Iron I sites (Finkelstein 1988; Finkelstein 
1995:349-365). In the same way archaeology is the sole witness for the tenth 
century B.C.E. - the time of the United Monarchy (see below). 

Archaeology actually goes far beyond this. It can also tell us a lot about the texts 
themselves, by providing information about their possible date of compilation. As 
I have already noted before, many biblical scholars date two of the three main 
sources of the Pentateuch - J and E - to early monarchic times, in the tenth century 
or a bit later. And many more argue that the Deuteronomistic History, even if com- 
piled in the seventh or sixth centuries B.C.E., incorporated written material from 
earlier centuries. Archaeology, I would argue, shows that both theories are highly 

It is quite clear that these great literary works were meant to convey theological, 
cultural, and political messages. As such, they were probably directed at a wider 
public, far beyond the circles of the writers. They were meant to be read by (or to) 
people in the capital and in the countryside of Judah alike. I would argue therefore 
that the "standardized" literary works narrating the history of (all) Israel (in con- 
trast to scattered, contradictory, and partial oral traditions) must have been written 
in an urban society, with high level of knowledge, sophistication, and literacy in the 
elite and the circles around it; they must have been written when the community 
was already quite advanced from the socio-political point of view; and they must 
have been written in a period when literacy spread not only in the capital, but also 


in the countryside of the kingdom. Having these conditions in mind, we should 
now look at the demographic and cultural developments in Jerusalem in particular 
and Judah in general. 

Archaeology demonstrates that in the tenth and early ninth centuries Jerusalem 
was no more than a poor, small highland village. This period of time is represented 
only by meager pottery finds (Steiner 1998:26-32, 62; Finkelstein 2001:105-115; 
Ussishkin forthcoming). Jerusalem grew to become a major urban center in the late 
eighth century B.C.E. (Broshi 1974). The destruction of the Northern Kingdom 
by the Assyrians in 720 B.C.E., and the devastation of the Judahite lowlands by 
Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E., sent torrents of refugees to Jerusalem and Judah. And 
the incorporation of Judah into the Assyrian system gave it a major economic boost. 
The city quickly developed and expanded far beyond the limited area of the City 
of David, was surrounded by massive fortifications (Avigad 1984:46-60), 7 and was 
provided with a sophisticated water system. 

Archaeology also indicates that until the eighth century B.C.E. the countryside 
of Judah was very sparsely settled, by no more than a few small villages. The popu- 
lation of the Judahite countryside grew dramatically in the late eighth century 
B.C.E., as a result of the same processes that brought about the expansion of 
Jerusalem (Ofer 1994:102-106). 

And archaeology shows that the population of Judah reached the level of signifi- 
cant literacy only in the seventh century B.C.E. There is almost no sign of writing 
in Judah in general and Jerusalem in particular before the eighth century. Inscrip- 
tions - ostraca and seal impressions - first appear in the eighth century, and their 
number grew significantly in the course of the seventh century B.C.E. (Naveh 1982; 
Sass 1993; Renz 1995:38-39; Avigad and Sass 1997). 8 

To sum up this point, in the tenth and early ninth centuries the southern hill 
country was still characterized by demographic and political conditions similar to 
those which prevailed in the Late Bronze Age and are reflected in the Amarna 
letters. A "king" ruled over a large, relatively empty, dimorphic countryside, with a 
few villages and a large number of pastoral people. The capital was no more than 
a small highland stronghold, probably comprised of a modest palace, a shrine and 
a few more buildings for the elite (Naaman 1996:17-27). There is no way, to 
my mind, to imagine major literary activity under these conditions. The great 
historical works, which aimed to serve the propaganda of the Davidic dynasty and 
the Deuteronomistic movement, could not have been written much before 700 

Archaeology can help date a text even more precisely. The most obvious case 
may be that of the J source in the Pentateuch. Scholars have noticed long ago that 
a few themes in Genesis cannot predate the first millennium B.C.E. I refer mainly 
to the mention of Philistines and Arameans, who did not come to prominence in 
the region before the eleventh and ninth century B.C.E., respectively (Mazar 
1986:49-62; McCarter 1999:1-31). But they tended to treat the mention of these 
people as anachronisms. The first who took a different approach was Thomas 
Thompson, who argued 25 years ago that the "anachronisms" in the text are, in 
fact, those aspects which specifically distinguish the narratives from the rest of the 


ancient Near Eastern folk-tales. Their removal would make the stories insignificant 
for Israelite history (Thompson 1974:324). 

Indeed, there is much beyond Arameans and Philistines in J. I will limit myself 
to a few examples. Genesis 36:31-39 lists the early kings of Edom. Both extra- 
biblical sources and archaeology indicate that there were neither real kings nor a 
real state in Edom before the late eighth century B.C.E. Edom rises after the con- 
quest of the region by Assyria and the beginning of prosperity in the arid zones 
of the south as a result of the lucrative Arabian trade under Assyrian domination. 
The evidence for sedentary occupation in Edom prior to the Assyrian take-over is 
scanty. The first large-scale wave of settlement there, and the establishment of large 
settlements and fortresses, may have started in the eighth century B.C.E., but 
reached a peak only in the seventh and early sixth centuries B.C.E. 9 And no less 
important, the area was again very sparsely inhabited after the Babylonian take- 
over, until the Nabatean prosperity in the Hellenistic period. 

Also significant is the appearance of certain toponyms in Genesis. Chapter 
1 4 - the story of the great war between the kings of the east and the kings of the 
cities of the plain - mentions "En-mishpat that is, Kadesh", Tamar, and Ashteroth- 
karnaim. The first is no doubt Kadesh-barnea, the great oasis in the south, which 
is safely identified with Ein el Qudeirat in eastern Sinai. The main period of set- 
tlement activity in this site is in the seventh and early sixth century B.C.E. Tamar 
should most probably be identified with Ein Haseva in the northern Araba. Exca- 
vations there uncovered a great fort which functioned mainly in the late Iron II (late 
eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.) (Ussishkin 1995:1 18-127; Naaman 1997:60). 
The combination Ashteroth-karnaim refers to the city of Ashteroth in southwest- 
ern Syria, and makes a reference to the fact that it is located in the Neo-Assyrian 
district of Karnaim. Chapter 14 forms a singular source, very different from the 
rest of the material in Genesis, which may be dated to Exilic or post-Exilic times. 
But it seems that at least part of the geographic information in it best fits late- 
monarchic times. 

Finally, I wish to refer to the mention of Gerar as a Philistine city in the narra- 
tives of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 20, 26 - E and J stories, respectively). Gerar 
is safely identified with Tel Haror northwest of Beer-sheba. Excavations there 
showed that in the Iron I - the early phase of Philistine history - it was no more 
than a small, quite insignificant village. But in the late Iron II it was built as a strong, 
heavily fortified, Assyrian administrative stronghold. The site was not occupied in 
the sixth century B.C.E. (Oren 1993:582-584). Hence the combination of 
Philistines and Gerar best fits the reality of the period of Assyrian domination in 
the region. Indeed, Naveh has recently proposed to identify Abimelech, king of 
Gerar in Genesis, with Ahimilki, king of Ashdod, who is mentioned in seventh- 
century Assyrian sources (Naveh 1998:36). 

Ideology is no less important than topography for a reading of Genesis. The 
notion of the centrality and superiority of Judah - a centerpiece in the J narratives 
- cannot be understood before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 720 
B.C.E. Until that date Israel was the dominant power while Judah was a marginal, 
dependent entity. From the late eighth century and in the seventh century Judah 


developed this sense of importance, power, and message. It saw itself as the heir to 
the Israelite territories and the Israelite population which remained in the north 
after the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the deportation of large segments of its 
population by the Assyrians. 

That the stories in Genesis are Judah-centric is best reflected in the negative atti- 
tude toward its neighbors. The best example is the mocking of Ammon and Moab 
by mentioning (Genesis 19:30-38 - a J text) that the eponymous fathers of these 
nations were born of an incestuous union of a father with his daughters. And the 
Edomites and the Arab tribes in the south were portrayed as savages, compared to 
sedentary Judah. These perceptions, too, fit late-monarchic times more than any 
other period, including post-Exilic times, when some of these neighbors were quite 

Still, though the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History were put in writing 
relatively late in Israelite history, most biblical scholars would accept that they 
include materials earlier than the time of the compilation. The problem is that in 
most cases the old memories are so vague, or so manipulated by the later writers, 
that the early realities in them are beyond recovery. Only archaeology can help, in 
certain cases, in identifying such earlier traditions. I wish to briefly demonstrate this 
with two examples, both from the Deuteronomistic History. 

The excavations at Shiloh in the 1980s have shown beyond doubt that the site 
reached its peak of activity in the late Iron I, in the eleventh and early tenth cen- 
turies B.C.E. In the Iron II there was only meager activity at the site and in most 
of this long period it seems to have been deserted (Finkelstein et al. 1993). It is 
clear therefore that the stories in I Samuel about the importance of Shiloh in pre- 
monarchic times cannot reflect late-monarchic realities. Rather, they must repre- 
sent some sort of memory of the prominence of the site in earlier times. The same 
holds true for the cycle of stories about the wandering of David and his men along 
the southern fringe of Judah. These narratives clearly fit a description of a band of 
Apiru (a term describing outlaws, uprooted bandits in Bronze Ages texts) moving 
in a sparsely settled region, far from the reach of central authority. This kind of 
background does not fit the period when the Deuteronomistic History was put in 
writing. At that time the area was densely settled, with no trace of Apiru reality left. 
Therefore, I see no alternative but to argue that the stories reflect what I have 
labeled before "the Amarna-like" situation in the Judahite hill country prior to the 
great demographic growth in the late eighth century B.C.E. 

But recognizing the possible historical value of isolated elements is something 
very different from accepting the entire story of the rise of a united Israel from ear- 
liest times. Should we therefore consider the biblical materials on the formative 
periods in the history of Israel as ahistoric and therefore useless? The answer is both 
positive and negative. Positive, because the biblical material cannot help us recon- 
struct this formative history. Negative, because it tells us a lot about the society and 
realities of the time of the writing. And this is the point which I have tried to empha- 
size throughout this chapter, that the main contribution of the "view from the 
center" is to demonstrate that these texts should not be read as a sequential history, 
from ancient to later times, but the other way around - from the time of the writing 


back to more remote periods of history. I wish to conclude this paper with two 
examples. 10 

The first is the Conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua. Central to the 
Deuteronomistic ideology was the idea that all Israelite territories and people should 
be ruled by a Davidic king and that all Israelite cult should be centralized in the 
temple in Jerusalem. This ideology probably emerged after the fall of the Northern 
Kingdom, but could not have been fulfilled as long as Assyria dominated the region. 
But when the Assyrians pulled out ca. 630 B.C.E., it seemed possible to accom- 
plish. Thus at the time when possession of the Land was of great concern, the Book 
of Joshua offered an unforgettable epic with a clear lesson - creating a vivid, unified 
narrative out of vague memories of how, when the People of Israel did follow the 
covenant with their God to the letter, no victory could be denied to them. That 
point was made with some of the most vivid folk tales recast as a single epic against 
a highly familiar seventh-century background and played in places of the greatest 
concern to the Deuteronomistic ideology. 

So, the towering figure of Joshua is used to paint a metaphorical portrait of 
Josiah, the would-be savior of all the People of Israel. Josiah is the new Joshua 
(Nelson 1981a), and the past, mythical conquest of Canaan is a battle plan for the 
present fights and for a conquest to be. 11 Indeed, the overall battle plan in the book 
of Joshua fits seventh-century realities. The first two battles - at Jericho and Ai 
(that is, the area of Bethel) - were fought in territories which were the first target 
of the Josianic expansionism after the withdrawal of Assyria from the province of 
Samaria. Jericho was the southeastern outpost of the Northern Kingdom and the 
later Assyrian province, which flourished after the Judahite takeover. Bethel was the 
main, much hated cult center of the Northern Kingdom. 

Likewise, the story about the Gibeonites who have "come from a far country" 
and asked to make a covenant with the invading Israelites has a basis in the his- 
torical reality of the seventh century B.C.E. Expanding northward into the area of 
Bethel, Judah faced a problem of how to integrate the descendants of the depor- 
tees brought by the Assyrians from afar and settled there a few decades earlier. 12 
The (old?) story of the Gibeonites could provide an "historical" context in which 
the Deuteronomists explained how it was possible to integrate these people though 
they were not Israelites by origin. 

Next comes the conquest of the Shephelah, probably symbolizing the renewed 
Judahite expansion into this important, fertile region, expansion which is evident 
from the distribution of late-monarchic finds (Kletter 1999: 19-54). This area - the 
traditional breadbasket of the Southern Kingdom - was taken from Judah by the 
Assyrians a few decades earlier and given to the cities of the coastal plain. 

Then the story turns to the north. And this time the conquest of the past becomes 
a utopic conquest in the future (cf . Bernbeck, this volume) . The reference to the 
famous city of Hazor calls to mind not only its reputation in the distant past as the 
most prominent of the Canaanite city-states, but certainly the realities of more 
recent times, when Hazor was the most important center of the Kingdom of Israel 
in the north. No less meaningful is the mention in the same chapter of Naphot Dor, 
probably alluding to the days when the city of Dor on the coast served as a capital 


of an Assyrian province. And most important, the territories described in relation 
to the war in the north perfectly match the Galilee territories of the vanquished 
Northern Kingdom of Israel. These were the territories which were conceived in 
seventh-century Judah as lawfully and divinely belonging to the Davidic kings in 

To sum up this point, in reading and reciting these stories of conquest of the 
entire Land of Israel, the Judahites of the late seventh century B.C.E. saw their own 
deepest wishes fulfilled. 

The same approach to the biblical text should be utilized regarding the United 
Monarchy. Archaeology shows absolutely no sign of a great tenth-century territor- 
ial state ruled from Jerusalem. First, as I have already noted, tenth-century 
Jerusalem was no more than an Amarna-type highlands stronghold. Second, the 
Judahite countryside was very sparsely settled at that time. There were no human 
resources available for conquest and domination of large territories. Third, I see no 
reason why the marginal, underdeveloped southern highlands would become a 
center of the only territorial state in the Levant; state formation in this region came 
only in the ninth century and was closely related to Assyrian expansionism 
(Finkelstein 1999b). Fourth, as far as I can judge, and as far as recent radiocarbon 
dates indicate, the strata with monumental architecture in the north, which formed 
the basis for the reconstruction of a material culture of a great tenth-century state 
- mainly the Megiddo palaces - should be redated to the early ninth century B.C.E. 
(Finkelstein 1996:177-187; Finkelstein 1999a:55-70). 13 

And there is more. In the northern valleys, the tenth century is characterized by 
a revival of the Canaanite system of the second millennium B.C.E. The main cities 
in this landscape (Megiddo, Rehov, Dor, and Kinneret), which I have recently 
labeled "New Canaan" (Finkelstein 2003), probably served as centers of city-state 
territorial entities. Almost all their features - pottery, metallurgical and architec- 
tural traditions, layout of the main cities, cult, and settlement patterns of the 
countryside around them - show clear continuation of second-millennium tradi- 
tions. The tenth-century monarchs in Jerusalem could not have ruled, therefore, in 
the northern valleys. The idea that poor Jerusalem, with its sparsely settled hinter- 
land ruled over the far away, rich, and prosperous cities of the lowlands is an absurd 

Biblical scholars have long acknowledged that the description of the United 
Monarchy, especially the glamour of the days of Solomon, draws a picture of an 
idyllic Golden Age wrapped in later theological and ideological goals (Van Seters 
1983:307-312; Garbini 1988:32; Auld 1996:160-169; Miller 1997:1-24; Niemann 
1997:252-299). Indeed, in this case, too, it is not difficult to identify the landscapes 
and costumes of seventh-century Judah as the stage setting behind the biblical tale 
(Knauft 1991:167-186). The lavish visit of Solomon's trading partner, the Queen 
of Sheba, to Jerusalem no doubt reflects the participation of seventh-century Judah 
in the lucrative Arabian trade. The same holds true for the description of the build- 
ing of "Tamar in the wilderness" and the trade expeditions to lands afar setting off 
from Ezion-geber in the Gulf of Aqaba - two sites which were securely identified 
and which were not inhabited before late-monarchic times. And David's royal guard 


troops of Cheretites and Pelethites, long assumed by scholars to have been Aegean 
in origin, should probably be understood against the background of the service of 
Greek mercenaries in the armies of the seventh century - certainly in the Egyptian 
and possibly in the Judaean armies (Finkelstein forthcoming) . Many other items in 
the story (such as the frequent mention of copper and horses and the mention 
of Achish as king of a Philistine city in the Shephelah) also fit late-monarchic 
realities. 14 

The tale of a glamorous United Monarchy had obvious power for the people of 
Judah. A new David had now come to the throne, intent on "restoring" the glory 
of his distant ancestors. This is Josiah, the most devout of all Judahite kings. He 
was able to roll history back from his own days to the time of the mythical United 
Monarchy. By cleansing Judah from the abominations of the nations and undoing 
the sins of the past he could stop the cycle of idolatry and calamity forever. He 
could reenact the United Monarchy of David before it went astray. So Josiah 
embarked on reestablishing a United Monarchy. He was about to "regain" the ter- 
ritories of the now destroyed Northern Kingdom, and rule from Jerusalem over the 
territories of Judah and Israel combined. 

Now back to the tenth century. Neither archaeology nor the biblical text supply 
the slightest clue for the extent of the Jerusalem territory of that time. The only 
clue - if there is one - is the appeal of the Deuteronomistic Historian to the col- 
lective memory of his compatriots, that in the distant past the founders of the 
Davidic dynasty ruled over a territory larger than the traditional boundaries of the 
Southern Kingdom in late-monarchic times. We can say no more. 

I have tried to demonstrate in this chapter the role of modern archaeology in the 
study of ancient Israel. Archaeology can be successfully utilized in this endeavor 
only after being liberated from the simplistic reading of the text, which made it a 
secondary character in the play and forbade it from raising its own, genuine voice. 
Indeed, in recent years archaeology has taken the lead in the quest for biblical 


1 For rejoinders see, for instance, Halpern 1995:26-47; Dever 2001. 

2 For the founder of this school of thought see Albright 1957. More recently see Dever 
2001; Malamat 2001. 

3 But see Ben-Tor 1998:456-467. 

4 For the Documentary Hypothesis see Friedman 1987. For overviews of the state of 
research see de Pury and Romer 1989:43-80; Van Seters 1999. 

5 Unlike some current scholars, e.g., Knauft (2000:388-398), I belong to the majority, 
who continue to work in the framework of a Deuteronomistic History. 

6 See summaries with bibliographies in Whybray 1987:221-235; de Pury and Romer 
1989:58-67; Romer and de Pury 2000:82-8. 

7 For recent excavations in the City of David see Shanks 1999:20-29. 

8 But see Millard 1998:33-39. 


9 See various articles in Bienkowski 1992; Hart 1986:51-58. 

10 For detailed treatment see Finkelstein and Silberman 2001. 

11 See also Lohfmk 1991:125-141. 

12 On these deportations see Naaman and Zadok 1988:36-46; Naaman and Zadok 

13 For radiocarbon results see Gilboa and Sharon, forthcoming in Radiocarbon. 

14 For Achish see Naveh 1998. 


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J Mario Liverani 

Colonialism, Cultural Appropriation, and Empires 

As a child does with his or her toys, Western culture quite often investigates what 
it is destroying, from alien peoples and cultural heritages to landscapes and ma- 
terial resources. 

The archaeological and epigraphic rediscovery of ancient Near Eastern civiliza- 
tions (Larsen 1996) started in the period of colonial appropriation of the Ottoman 
Empire and was a constituent part of that process. This holds true both in general 
terms and in detail: it should suffice to remember that the short period (1842-54) 
of excavations carried out by Emile Botta, Austen Layard, and their followers (E. 
Place, H. Rassam, W. K. Loftus) in the capital cities of Assyria took place in the 
interval between the end (1841) of the war of the Ottoman empire, supported by 
the major European countries, against Muhammad Ali and the beginning (1855) 
of the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny. From this perspective, archaeological exca- 
vations took place side by side with (or even slightly preceded) the European intru- 
sion (under the label of assistance) in the financial system and communication 
infrastructures of the declining empire. 

Besides political and economic aspects, cultural aspects played an important role 
in the process of appropriation (Silberman 1982; Larsen 1994): the shipment of 
stone reliefs to be exhibited in London and Paris museums is just a more apparent 
feature of the cultural appropriation of historical and cultural heritage. Specific 
research tools were invented by European colonizers in order to accomplish the task 
of assimilating alien cultures. 

In the case of illiterate cultures of "primitive" peoples, the cultural tool invented 
by colonialism was ethnology. But in the case of Near Eastern (and other Asiatic) 
peoples and civilizations, a different tool had to be invented, namely Orientalism 
(Said 1979, 1993). Those cultures were literate and politically sophisticated, they 
had produced important insights in the fields of religion, philosophy, literature, and 


art, they were assumed by the Classical tradition to be the original homeland of 
wisdom and civilization, and they provided the historical background of the Holy 
Bible. For all these reasons their cultures could not be simply destroyed; they had 
to be appropriated by the European conquerors. 

The cultures of the ancient Near East, moreover, were (and still are) considered 
especially important as providing the "roots" for our own civilization and religion. 
The early 20th-century ex-libris of James Henry Breasted, reproduced as a stone 
relief on the entrance of the Chicago Oriental Institute, shows modern Western 
archaeologists (backed by Roman legionaries and medieval crusaders) meeting 
ancient Egyptian and Babylonian kings and scribes (Larsen 1994). 

The appropriation found ready-made help in the Biblical and Classical tradition 
of translatio imperii (Goetz 1958; Kratz 1991): imperial power shifted from Assyria 
and Babylonia to Media and Persia, then to the Greeks, finally to the Romans. In 
this way, a line of continuity linked the ancient empires to the European ones, the 
heirs of the Roman empire. Larsen has compared the Chicago relief to a painting 
representing Napoleon's meeting with the mummy of an ancient Pharaoh. The 
Napoleonic iconography, in its turn, can be traced to narratives about Alexander 
the Great meeting the statue of Nectanebo and inheriting Pharaonic power. This is 
important, since the transfer of empire inside the Near East (from Assyria to 
Babylonia, from Media to Persia) took place in the same geographic space and cul- 
tural tradition, while the application of the same paradigm to justify the Macedon- 
ian conquest was ideologically biased in that the transfer was in fact the result of a 
foreign conquest. The justification of Alexander's conquest is the first model for the 
modern appropriation of Middle Eastern cultural and political heritage by Western 

The idea of the translatio imperii, moreover, became part and parcel of a com- 
prehensive model for world history. A Euro-centered world view assumed that high 
culture originated in the Middle East (Egypt and Mesopotamia), then passed to 
Greece and Rome, the Christian Middle Ages, and up to the Western European 
world of the Industrial Revolution. Such a basic line of development in world history 
is still accepted as "normal" by the Western public, who assimilate it through sec- 
ondary school textbooks. 

This is a selective pattern, however, one dictated by the Western point of view. 
The Islamic or Middle Eastern perspective would generate a different line of con- 
tinuity, for instance a line connecting directly (with no shift in space) the 
Achaemenid empire with the Pahlavi dynasty, as materialized on the occasion of 
the 2,500th anniversary of Cyrus, celebrated in Teheran, 1971 (Anon. 1974). The 
case is not unique: the modern Lebanese, especially the Christian Maronites, 
engaged in Levantine trade pretend to be direct heirs of the Phoenicians, while the 
desperate Kurds claim to be descendants of the "mighty Medes" and celebrate 
Nowruz as an anniversary of the Medes' destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C.E. 
Modern Egypt takes care - basically for purposes of tourism - of its Pharaonic 
antiquities. Similar processes of identification of modern and ancient peoples and 
re-appropriation of local heritage for various political, nationalist, or economic 


reasons have been under way in Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, and wherever conspicuous 
remains of ancient cultures are visible. 

The local point of view, however, was not operative at the time of colonialist 
intervention, because traditional Islamic culture did not express any interest in pre- 
Islamic cultures, discarded as belonging to the period oijahiliya (the state of ignor- 
ance in pre-Islamic paganism) . As the territorial appropriation has been recurrently 
justified by "empty" spaces or their poor exploitation by local peoples, so also cul- 
tural appropriation has been justified by local disinterest in heritage abandoned in 
ruins and at risk of complete destruction if left to the care of its direct heirs. The 
1 9th-century pictorial representations of Oriental ruins by David Roberts and other 
"Orientalist" painters vividly expressed such a state of affairs by populating the 
magnificent monuments of the past with picturesque yet miserable squatters. Since 
the late 18th century, the most attentive travelers in the Middle East (Volney 1792) 
established an explicit connection between the despotic rule of the Ottoman empire 
and the state of abandonment of a landscape populated with the remains of ancient 
cities and palaces. They pointed to a period when those regions hosted important 
civilizations and denounced the political (especially fiscal) and cultural causes of 
their collapse. 

This was particularly true for the Biblical heritage (Silberman 1991), since the 
change in local religion, brought about by the Islamicization of the Middle East 
and the westwards displacement of Christianity, left "our" sacred places in the 
hands of the believers of another religion. We can quote the cry of Robert Mignan 
in Chaldea (1829:120) to express the common feeling of travelers visiting the Holy 
Places in Palestine or looking for the Tower of Babel in the Mesopotamian plains: 
"Can we ever sufficiently lament the circumstance of the country being in the hands 
of barbarians?" In this perspective, colonial appropriation was perfectly justified as 
the rescue of a heritage despised by its physical descendants but highly appreciated 
by its Western moral heirs. 

Political and Moral Values: East vs. West 

The European empires that destroyed and divided the spoil of the Ottoman empire 
were "bourgeois" empires, appreciating the values of freedom, democracy, individ- 
ual enterprise, progress, and rational science. They conceived of, or at least pre- 
tended to justify, colonization as a valuable process of civilization and progress, 
applied to countries and peoples still in the hands of despots responsible for a state 
of generalized servitude and economic stagnation. Even Karl Marx (1960), cer- 
tainly not an admirer of capitalism, evaluated the English colonization of India 
as progress, the only way to overcome political despotism and socio-economic 

The Western historians found in the ancient Near Eastern empires the models 
and forerunners of the Ottoman empire rather than of their own. They emphasized 
the negative values of despotism, generalized slavery, centralized economy, magic, 


stagnation, lust, and sadistic cruelty. Instead of building an unbiased story of pro- 
gressive changes in political institutions, Western scholars were trapped in a pre- 
conceived opposition of East vs. West, where the negative values of the Oriental 
model were an obvious justification for the appropriation of their lands and culture, 
and even their history and cultural heritage. The concept of "opposition," though 
contradictory to that of "appropriation" in logical terms, nevertheless made the 
process even more effective. 

The opposition of values had its origins in ancient Greece. The praise of the city- 
state vs. empire had first been expressed by Phocylides, ca. 540 B.C.E. ("A city 
which is small but on a lofty promontory and well ordered is stronger than foolish 
Nineveh"), but became a true clash of civilizations during the Persian Wars, as nar- 
rated by Herodotus. Freedom and democracy had the moral values to resist and 
even defeat the huge despotic empires of the Orient. In practical terms the small 
but determined (and better armed!) troops of the city-states were able to defeat the 
numberless armies of the emperor's slaves. The debate between Xerxes and 
Demaratos (Herodotus VII 103-104) applies the opposing virtues of despotism and 
freedom to warlike behavior. According to Xerxes, the Persians, "Were they under 
the rule of one, according to our custom, they might from fear of him show a valour 
greater than natural, and under compulsion of the lash might encounter odds in 
the field; but neither of these would they do while they were suffered to be free." 

The answer by Demaratos turns the evaluation upside down: "[The Greeks], 
fighting singly, they are as brave as any man living, and together they are the best 
warriors on earth. Free they are, yet not wholly free; for Law is their master, whom 
they fear much more than your men fear you. This is my proof - what their law 
bids them, that they do; and its bidding is ever the same, that they must never flee 
from the battle before whatsoever odds, but abide at their post and there conquer 
or die" (trans. Godley 1982:407-409). 

The final issue of the Persian wars was considered the practical demonstration 
that quality is superior to quantity, civic values are more effective than forced obe- 
dience, freedom works better than despotism. Following such a tradition more than 
two millennia later, the modern Greek Independence War (1823-28) was appreci- 
ated (and participated in) by members of the European intelligentsia as a repeat 
performance of the Persian wars, to be fought with a gun in one hand and 
Herodotus in the other. 

But the archaeological discoveries in the mid- 19th century provided a much 
better model for the "Empire of Evil": the Achaemenid empire replaced the 
Assyrian empire, which was also the first in line according to the "succession of 
empires" paradigm. The replacement had something to do with racist prejudices: 
the Persians were an Indo-European people, while the Assyrians were Semites. But 
the main reason for a criminalization of the Assyrian (and Neo-Babylonian) empire 
is to be found in the Biblical perspective. Assyria and Babylonia had been respon- 
sible for the conquest of Israel and Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the First 
Temple, and the deportations of the Jews - while Cyrus (the first Achaemenid 
emperor) was the author of the Edict (538) allowing the exiles to return to their 
homeland, an expression of a more enlightened political attitude. The Assyrian 


empire became the original model for the subsequent despotic empires down to the 
Ottomans. And the Ottoman empire acted as a model to more easily understand 
and reconstruct the Assyrian empire. The Ottoman model was effective in intro- 
ducing terms like harem, eunuchs, and vizier into the description of Assyria, and in 
advancing fanciful reconstructions of Assyrian palaces embellished with domes and 
minarets (Fergusson 1851). 

The Orient was not despotic in its entirety, however, and the Eastern Mediter- 
ranean belt had characters of its own. In modern times it hosted the "Levantine" 
communities of traders and dealers, largely Christian and building an intermediate 
zone between the Western and the Oriental worlds. In antiquity, the same belt was 
the seat of city-states and small kingdoms, assumed to have been more democratic 
and engaged in a desperate resistance against the advance of the aggressive and 
totalitarian empires of the Orient. The rescue and protection of Levantine dealers 
and Christian minorities, besides that of the Holy Places of Christianity, acted as 
an additional motivation and justification for colonial intervention. 

Negative as they may have been from ethical and political points of view, the 
despotic empires were nevertheless a paradise for archaeology, especially the kind 
that dominated the colonial period. It was an archaeology of appropriation, and the 
aims of the first diggers are best defined by Layard: "to obtain the largest possible 
number of well preserved objects of art at the least possible outlay of time and 
money" (cf. Daniel 1975:152). The "objects of art," namely the sculptured slabs of 
the Assyrian palaces, were shipped to Paris and London, to be exhibited in the 
newly created museums for the admiration of a bourgeois audience. It is not by 
chance that the establishment of public (state-run) archaeological (and especially 
Oriental) museums went hand-in-hand with that of ethnographic collections, 
botanical gardens, and zoological parks: these are all cases of the Western imperial 
and colonial world exhibiting to its own public the spoils (both cultural and natural) 
of its conquests. 

Classical scholars and art historians, however, were less enthusiastic about the 
artistic value of the Assyrian reliefs as compared to Greek ones, and the exhibit in 
the British Museum of the Assyrian reliefs and the "Elgin Marbles" materialized 
the uneven struggle (Bohrer 1989). Jacob Burckhardt (1905:65) mentions "the rude 
royal fortress of Nineveh" and "their miserable architectural structure and servile 
sculpture." Once again, our civilization owes a debt to the Orient in the "material" 
aspects of culture, but owes to Greece the most important values, those connected 
with a free development of individual personality, including aesthetic values. The 
Oriental empires, based as they were on compulsory dependence on the absolute 
will of the despot, did not produce good soldiers or good artists. Therefore the mas- 
terpieces of Greek art were exhibited for and perceived in their aesthetic values as 
a part of our own culture, while the Assyrian reliefs were exhibited as spoils from 
an inferior and alien civilization. 

The physical appropriation of archaeological remains is just one aspect of colo- 
nial archaeology in its first phase. Another aspect was its exclusive interest in the 
"hard" structures of state and empire, as represented by palaces, temples, and for- 
tifications, i.e., public architecture in general. The palaces excavated (if we can use 


this term) by Botta and Layard were impressive enough in their graphic recon- 
structions; but when the German school of architects (R. Koldewey in Babylon and 
W. Andrae in Assur) enabled excavators to make mudbrick structures visible, the 
effect was impressive indeed and materialized the idea of a centralized totalitarian 

For the early periods the concept of "Temple-City" as applied especially to 
Sumerian culture demonstrated that the Orient was centralistic and totalitarian (in 
this case, theocratic), not democratic, well before the existence of large empires. 

The story of "Oriental Despotism" is a long one. After the end of the Ottoman 
empire it found its best application to Soviet Russia (cf . Wittfogel 1957), consid- 
ered as part of the "Eastern" side of slavery and stagnation, and fought against as 
a terrible danger for the freedom of the Western democratic world. The story is still 
alive in our times at the level of popular culture: in the movie "Star Wars" we are 
the "Federation," a democratic and pluralistic organization fighting for freedom, 
while the enemy is the "Empire" - "the Empire of Evil" - whose members speak 
with a marked Russian accent. 

While the despotic Oriental empires were criminalized, Western scholars could 
not ignore Western empires, which were also studied in a critical way but charac- 
terized as networks rather than territories, aiming at economic rather than military 
control. Lenin's definition of imperialism as the culminating phase of capitalism is 
just a more popular (and more politicized) outcome of an important debate among 
economists and modern historians (Brown 1974), but it had a very limited impact 
on ancient Near Eastern studies. The basic point (faced differently by the various 
schools) is that the prime mover of imperialism is economic, so that the "economy 
of imperialism" is the pivotal subject for study. The military and political means to 
accomplish expansion are left to the variable conditions of historical periods. 

The Model of Empire and its Variations 

During the colonial dominance (ca. 1920-50), the model of "empire" was applied 
- both by specialized scholars and general audiences - to various polities of the 
ancient Near East well before the time-honored line of the "classical" empires 
(Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Persia) . We still speak of an empire of Akkad (Westen- 
holz 1979; Liverani 1993; but see Forest, this volume), of Ebla (Matthiae 1977; 
Pettinato 1979), an Ur III empire (e.g., Goetze 1963), an empire of Hammurabi 
of Babylon (e.g., Schmokel 1958), a Hittite empire (e.g., Gurney 1979), a Middle 
Assyrian empire, and an Egyptian empire (especially in the New Kingdom: Kemp 
1978; Frandsen 1979). Such a widespread use of the term seems to imply that every 
Oriental state of some compactness and extent was an empire, without regard for 
its inner structure or ideology. We might even suspect that some scholars feel more 
rewarded by studying an empire than just a state - or cunningly hope their books 
on the subject will sell better. 

But over time, especially after the end of the colonial period around 1950 - when 
real empires ceased to exist, or there was a pretense that they no longer existed as 


such - a more "scientific" study of the characteristics of ancient empires began. 
Formerly, scholars were happy with a classification by way of analogy: an empire is 
a state similar to a model empire, be it the Assyrian (for antiquity) or the Ottoman 
one (for modern times). This mythical approach (based on a "first model" to be 
actualized in the course of time) was replaced by an historical one based on the 
analysis of specific features. Classifications and definitions of empires have 
been advanced many times, from the massive works of Wittfogel (1957) and 
Eisenstadt (1963) to the elegant "geometry" of Arrighi (1978). Various collective 
volumes on ancient (Garnsey and Whittaker 1978) or specifically ancient Near 
Eastern (Larsen 1979a; cf. also Garelli 1980) empires were produced, especially in 
the late 1970s. 

Of course there is the risk of a vicious circle in this procedure: the specific fea- 
tures are those recurrent in a list of case studies selected in advance on the basis 
of a pre-conceived idea. A restricted list of cases closer to the "classical" model will 
produce a more specific definition, while a more varied list will produce a looser 
typology. The main problems arise from the solutions advanced for two important 
features. The first is the opposition of territorial, compact empires vs. loose (com- 
mercial or nomadic) empires. This problem is related to a value judgment, since 
territorial empires are mostly connected with (Oriental) despotism, loose empires 
mostly with (Western) commercial expansion. 

The second problem is the minimum size necessary for an empire: is it reason- 
able to label as empire, or even as "universal" empire, a state controlling just a few 
hundred square miles of territory? Size is not an independent variable; it depends 
on the size of the oikumene known and frequented by a given society in a given his- 
torical time. Thus, the problem of size underscores the point that empires are better 
selected on the basis of their ideology - their pretension to exert a universal dom- 
ination - than on actual extent. In a limited oikumene, it is possible that a small 
state may pretend to be the actualization of the universal domain, the unique 
kingdom entitled by God to exert legal power over the world. 

In the case of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, however, these two problems 
were rather easily solved in practical terms (see Larsen 1979b for a general survey). 
Trade networks have seldom been labeled "empires." The system of Late Uruk 
period colonies (ca. 3200-3000), the Old Assyrian system of kdrum (ca. 
1900-1800), or the Phoenician network of colonies (ca. 750-500) can hardly be 
defined as "empires," as we shall see in a moment, although some scholars would 
like to identify the roots of imperialism in the Uruk period (Algaze 2001). Nomadic 
pastoralists in the Syro-Arabian steppe had neither the size nor the technical tools 
to establish any kind of enduring domain ("pastoral empire") over the country. As 
to size, any (assumed) ancient Near Eastern empire must be framed in its quite 
restricted oikumene, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, in 
which it is easy to claim "universal" domain from coast to coast. 

It would be wise to limit the use of the term "empire" to the Neo-Assyrian, 
Neo-Babylonian, and Achaemenid empires, reverting in fact to the "classical" list 
as already defined by the ancient (Biblical and Classical) authors. They developed 
a clear imperialistic ideology, were compact and despotic, and large enough to 


include a great part of the Near Eastern oikumene of their times. Previous polities 
in the third and second millennia were either too small or too loose to pretend to 
such a label. The Ur III state controlled directly only a restricted area in lower 
Mesopotamia; the Akkad empire had a more marked imperial ideology but a rather 
loose administrative structure; the Hittite empire had no imperial ideology and was 
regional in extent; and so on. An interesting case is Media, which was indeed a 
member of the classical list. More recent analyses (Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1988; 
Liverani in press), however, tend to describe the period ca. 650-610 as a secondary 
state generated by its proximity to the Assyrian empire and the interval ca. 610-550 
as a loose confederacy of mountain chiefdoms under the hegemony of a Median 
ruler who acquired special prestige for having destroyed the Assyrian empire. 

Dismounting Empires 

In the post-colonial period, Near Eastern archaeology along with philology devoted 
an increased interest to clarifying the inner functioning of empires and unveiling 
their ideology. On the one hand, a growing interest in rural communities, rural land- 
scape, domestic life and material culture, previously advanced primarily by Marxist 
scholars, became a common trend and resulted in a more variegated and less 
ideological approach to the real configuration of empires. On the other hand, the 
turning point of the late 1960s resulted in a more explicitly critical approach to 
received ideas and a true and proper "dismounting" of imperial ideologies and 
socio-economic structures. I single out here the most significant trends in address- 
ing some key problems concerning ancient Near Eastern empires. 

Imperial infrastructures: canals and roads 

The epoch-making surveys carried out by Robert McC. Adams during the 1950s 
and 1960s in lower Mesopotamia (1965, 1981; Adams and Nissen 1972) explicitly 
contradicted the time-honored idea that hydraulic structures (the network of irri- 
gation canals) were connected with empires - an idea that found its extreme sup- 
porter inWittfogel (1957). According to Adams, the early development of irrigation 
canals was a local affair, carried out at a limited scale by local communities. 
Eventually the local networks were connected to wider systems, so that the 
growth of hydraulic structures went hand-in-hand with the growth of political 
systems and was not the result of centralized polities but rather a factor in their 

A similar critique could be carried out regarding road systems. The Achaemenid 
empire is credited with the installation and running of a system of "kings' roads," 
the most important being the one from Susa to Sardis described by Herodotus 
(Seibert 1985:15-27; Koch 1986). Smaller sections of "kings' roads" are well 
attested in the Assyrian empire (Kessler 1980:27-78; 1997; Levine 1989), and a 
system of state-run post stations is known from the Ur III dynasty (Shulgi hymn: 


Pritchard 1969:585-586). In this case as well it is a matter of the progressive estab- 
lishment of a network connecting local roads to a more comprehensive system. 

In current studies, the "imperial landscape" seems to be simply an enlargement 
and systematization of previous local landscapes. Yet it is possible that recent trends 
understate the role of empires in producing not only an enlargement in scale but 
also a substantial improvement in agricultural and communication infrastructures. 

Imperial capital cities 

In earlier studies the large Assyrian and Babylonian capital cities were interpreted 
as something different and even opposite to Western cities, by scholars of various 
ideological backgrounds (Liverani 1997:86-87). According to Karl Marx they were 
"princely encampments, superfetations of the real economic structure" (1983:39). 
Jacob Burckhardt defines the "enormous military encampments of the Assyrian 
dynasties," the Babylonian "common castle for all goods and gods," "the three tem- 
porary residences of the Achaemenids," and "the huge market-places of the Ori- 
ental trade" as a negative counter-model for the Greek polis (1898:61). It is only in 
the mid-20th century that these capitals were accepted as real cities, so that the 
problem of their provisioning - and consequently the relationships of city and coun- 
tryside - became a subject for serious study (Oates 1968). More recently the par- 
allel growth of the Assyrian capitals and decrease of minor settlements has received 
attention as a significant historical process (Wilkinson 1995). 

We can also outline a changing approach to the visualization of the palace, the 
core of any imperial capital city. In the 19th century, when European "formal" 
empires still existed, the royal palace was viewed as a residence of the emperor (like 
Versailles or Schonbrunn) and the location of ceremony and display. The pictorial 
representations of Assyrian palaces were populated by courtiers solemnly engaged 
in doing nothing - as if the empire could rest on prestige rather than production. 
In the first half of the 20th century, palaces became a kind of political machine, the 
core and physical location of the administration of the imperial economy. They were 
studied mainly through administrative documents and inner correspondence 
exchanged between king and officials, complemented by the functional analysis of 
architecture (Margueron 1982; on Assyrian palaces cf. Albenda 1986; Russell 1991; 
Caubet 1995). The old search for the location of the harem and throne room was 
enlarged to a definition of sectors devoted to residence, ceremony, administration 
and archives, store-rooms and workshops, in this way providing a more precise idea 
of the use of the palace as the center of the empire. 

Imperial ideologies and their archaeological visibility 

The study of imperial ideology and its archaeological visibility, developed during 
the late 1960s and 1970s, started from the unveiling of royal inscriptions as biased 
messages, in line with procedures of "counter-information" and literary analyses 


applied to modern political addresses (Eco 1971; Klaus 1971; Faye 1972; Robin 
1973) .The transfer of such studies to imperial ideologies (and their "propaganda") 
of the ancient Near East has been the main engagement of various scholars (cf. 
Liverani 1979; Oppenheim 1979; studies collected in Fales 1981; Tadmor and 
Weinfeld 1983;Tadmor 1997). The application of similar perspectives to iconic rep- 
resentations and monumental architecture has been especially relevant as applied 
to Assyrian (cf. most recently Lamprichs 1995; Winter 1997) and Persian (Root 
1979) palaces and sculpted reliefs. The study of imperial ideology is especially 
important because it makes clear that the very same definition of an empire is not 
so much related to the size of the imperial state (which, as we have seen, can be 
quite small, if projected to a world scale), but to the ideological pretension of uni- 
versal domain, and therefore to a mental rather than practical accomplishment. 

In terms of extent, the basic concept is that of the "universal empire." Since the 
king is put in charge by the gods, with the ultimate task of ensuring a correct rela- 
tionship between divine and human levels, it is clear that only one kingdom can 
really be entrusted with such a charge. Its task is to extend the correct relationships 
- already existent in the home country - to the "barbarian" periphery. The most 
typical royal title of imperial flavor is "king of the four quarters" (i.e., of the entire 
world) and the most typical task is to enlarge the empire to the very outer border 
of the oikumene. The Assyrian coronation ritual states this task most clearly: "By 
your right sceptre enlarge your land! May Assur give you authority and obedience, 
justice and peace!" (Miiller 1937:12-13). The visible materialization of the univer- 
sal domain is provided by the stelae set up at the farthest points reached by the 
king, generally in locations that are ideologically meaningful and allude to a far end: 
the sea coast or a high mountain, beyond which no land can be seen or imagined 
to exist. 

Although imperial conquest is intended as a benefit for the subdued peoples, 
who will be finally inserted in the cosmos and subtracted to chaos, nevertheless 
foreign peoples resist such a transformation. This is because they still are part of 
the chaos and are characterized by wickedness and insanity (Haas 1980). They do 
not submit; they resist, they have to be vanquished or even eliminated. They trust 
in their numbers or in the protection of the landscape, and do not understand that 
the imperial army, secure in its divine support, will unavoidably win. 

The imperial conquest is therefore a story of military campaigns, motivated 
according to the pattern of "holy war," which is also "just war" (cf. Oded 1992). 
The enemies (and not the imperial expansionist policy) are responsible for the war 
and for their final defeat: since they resisted or even threatened the safety of the 
central kingdom, it is their fault (not ours) if they are finally killed. Once again an 
Assyrian text, in this case a prayer of Tukulti-Ninurta I from the Middle Assyrian 
period, is the best example. The repeated plunder and destruction carried out 
by the Assyrian armies against the mountain tribes in the Zagros is justified as a 
defensive reaction against the wicked, foolish, aggressive enemies (Foster 

The sculptured reliefs in the Assyrian palaces have also been read as an appara- 
tus of imperial propaganda, which is certainly true. But the main question is about 


the "audience" (or addressees) of such a textual and iconic apparatus. A rather naive 
explanation is that the narrative and representation of imperial power were intended 
to impress foreign visitors, and more particularly the description and representa- 
tion of violence and sadistic cruelty was intended to terrify enemies. A much more 
reasonable explanation is that such scenes were intended to mobilize and ensure 
the loyalty of the Assyrians themselves. In fact the basic intent of the "holy war" 
paradigm is to convince the internal public that "our" war is supported by the gods, 
that our army is superior to that of the enemy, that we will suffer no casualties, and 
that the enemy will be punished for its "original sin" of being an enemy (i.e., for 
resistance to imperial and divine power). 

The study of the literary topoi and iconic motifs of the imperial apparatus of pro- 
paganda has become in recent years one of the most productive lines of research 
for an in-depth understanding of what an ancient empire really was in the minds 
of its promoters and its participants. 

Center and periphery 

The empires in the ancient Near East can hardly be visualized as compact territo- 
ries, all uniformly governed by an emperor. Imperial structure is rather complex 
(cf. Frei and Koch 1984 on the Achaemenid empire) and includes in all cases a 
distinction between the "inner country" and the provinces. The inner country, the 
core of the empire, is inhabited by a people ethnically and functionally different 
from the conquered lands. The Assyrians, Babylonians, or Persians remain the 
leading people, in direct contact with the gods, even after they have been able to 
enlarge the cosmos to include peoples who were originally excluded from such a 
beneficial contact. Of course, processes of intermixture between governing and gov- 
erned peoples take place, but they are not similar in both directions. The core 
receives an influx of subordinated foreigners, in the form of deportees and prison- 
ers, who are used as a work-force to replace the voids produced by an ever prob- 
lematic demographic balance and war losses. In contrast, the conquered kingdoms, 
transformed into provinces or satrapies, receive an influx of representatives of the 
ruling class: governors and administrative units, located in provincial palaces, gar- 
risons of guards and soldiers to keep law and order, and in some cases merchants 
who profit from unbalanced economic relationships. Provincial palaces reproduce 
on a smaller scale the function and operative procedures of the central palace in 
the capital city. 

Not all territory can be administered according to a provincial system. At the 
empire's periphery some form of autonomy can exist, for different reasons. One is 
transient: the submission of foreign kingdoms most often takes place in a two-stage 
procedure. First, the kingdom is vanquished and becomes a "vassal"; later, follow- 
ing a "rebellion," it is punished by loss of autonomy and transformation into a 
province. A second reason is structural: the mountain and steppe tribes do not have 
the internal political and economic requisites to become provinces. They do not 
have cities and palaces, their produce cannot be subject to formal taxation. 


Therefore they remain in the status of dependent but autonomous peoples, gov- 
erned by their own chiefs, linked to the emperor by loyalty oaths, and paying not 
taxes but tribute that is mostly disguised as gifts and receiving royal gifts in their 
turn. The imperial arrangement is basically a three-level structure: core, provinces, 
periphery (Steinkeller 1987; Marcus 1990). 

In the periphery and also outside the empire, a process of adaptation takes place, 
according to which local tribes and chiefdoms, devoid of the markers of state for- 
mation (royal palace, formal administration, and taxation system), are led to imitate 
the state structures of the empire. This happens because of the political and eco- 
nomic relationships that the empire establishes with surrounding polities. Local 
elites build state-like structures in order to better express their prestige inside their 
country and to better interact with the empire. Such processes of "secondary state 
formation" (Brown 1986; Liverani in press) at the periphery of empires are archae- 
ologically and textually attested, especially in the mountain ranges bordering 
Mesopotamia, but also in other areas. 

The decision-making process 

The inner structure is much more complex than old-fashioned presentations of 
ancient Near Eastern empires pretended it to be. It is true that the emperor is an 
absolute sovereign, whose power (assigned to him by the gods) has no limit. But 
"despotism" is a concept belonging to the field of ideology and needs to be quali- 
fied in reality. Nobody can even think to run an empire in isolation. The emperor 
is obviously assisted by a large number of officials and courtiers, competent in (and 
entrusted with) various special functions: scribes and administrators, astrologers 
and magicians, servants and body-guards. Of course such a political elite can influ- 
ence the emperor in his decisions. We can single out three problems confronting 
the sovereign as especially meaningful. 

The first problem is that the decision-making procedure is complicated by nec- 
essary recourse to two parallel channels. On the one hand the king has to collect 
and validate information, and eventually take decisions, on the human level. On the 
other hand he has to collect and validate information and warnings coming from 
the super-human level, which is considered to be the most significant (Pongratz- 
Leisten 1997, 1999). The Mesopotamian model of kingship has recourse to the 
two legendary sovereigns of Akkad, contrasting the correct behavior of Sargon, 
who follows divine advice even if human information is negative, with the impious 
behavior of Naram-Sin, who trusts in human intelligence against the negative advice 
of the omens. In fact the Late Assyrian kings, about whom we have the richest 
documentary evidence, followed both channels by collecting both human informa- 
tion and counsel and astral omens and prophecies, validating the information 
through extispicy, and confronting negative omens with prophylactic rituals 
(namburbi) . 

The second problem is that the king's advisors follow their own strategies of self- 
promotion and self-protection, not necessarily coincident with the interest of the 


empire. On the one hand, human advisors tend to be cautious, even too cautious, 
in order to avoid the risk of being held responsible for possible disasters. On the 
other hand, astrologers tend to be optimistic (and even to conceal negative signs) 
in order to avoid the risk of being considered boycotters of the king's projects and 
activities. In general, court officials follow a strategy of family consolidation, acquir- 
ing real estate and ensuring their sons' succession to the office, a strategy contrary 
to the king's interest in removing inefficient officials and keeping total control on 
people and resources. Recourse to eunuchs is the most obvious move in this direc- 
tion, since eunuchs cannot hope to transmit their position to sons (Grayson 1995; 
Deller 1999). 

The third problem is that the royal palace is not a safe place, and the emperor 
is subject to continuous stress in taking care of his personal safety. The atmosphere 
of the palace is one of competition and slander not only among officials but also 
inside the harem and royal family - not seldom ending in conspiracies against the 
king or designated heir to the throne. In the Hittite and Assyrian empires, regicide 
is one of the most common procedures of turnover, and most time and attention 
must be paid by the sovereign to avoid risks of assassination. 

Outside the palace, the two basic structures of any empire are the bureaucracy 
(e.g., Gibson and Biggs 1987) and the army (e.g., Malbran-Labat 1982). In both, 
the basic technical tools at the disposal of empires are the same as for smaller states, 
only scale and spatial dissemination are greater and more complex. In the ancient 
Near East, personal relationships prevailed over functional structures. The distinc- 
tion between members of the royal family, administrative elite, army officers, and 
provincial governors tends to be rather fluid. The king is personally responsible for 
political and administrative decisions (even of quite minor cases), but his personal 
relations with bureaucrats and officers becomes a less and less effective tool with 
the growing scale of the problems. In various cases from the Hittite to Late 
Assyrian empire, the king seems more concerned with ensuring the loyalty of his 
assistants than with fully exploiting their services. 

The effects of ancient imperialism 

The existence and tendency of an empire to grow have important effects on sur- 
rounding peoples and countries. In modern times, economic development of an 
empire parallels underdevelopment in the periphery, since it is based on the 
exploitation of the periphery's resources and labor power. In ancient times, the 
effect of imperial growth on the periphery seems to have been dissimilar in con- 
quered countries and the outer periphery. 

Doubtless, imperial growth has a devastating effect on conquered countries: 
destruction of towns and villages, devastation of agriculture, deportation of ruling 
elites and commoners brought about a vertical collapse of the local economy and 
culture. The imposition of imperial religion to the detriment of the local one, even 
if not coercive (Cogan 1974), affected both the elite (because of the ideological 
relationship between the gods' favour and political fortunes) and the common 


population (in a general loss of traditional reference points) . Tribute (before annex- 
ation) and taxation (inside the empire) were burdensome for local economies (cf. 
Bar 1996 on tribute; Postgate 1974 on taxation). 

Deportations (Oded 1979; Gallagher 1994) were a typical imperial procedure, 
meant to achieve two different results. The goals of breaking down political resis- 
tance and eliminating local centers of independent culture and trade were reached 
quite easily. Repopulating the core country, however, was achieved only to a minor 
degree. The effects of imperial devastations are quite evident in the archaeological 
record. Entire countries, previously the seat of brilliant cultures, were totally 
destroyed, and depopulation assumed unprecedented levels. It suffices to compare 
the demographic, economic, and cultural levels reached by Neo-Hittite, Aramean, 
and Levantine kingdoms before and after the Assyrian conquest to understand what 
the effect of ancient imperialism was to subjected peoples. 

A major problem is that cross-deportations also produced an ethnic intermin- 
gling that persisted even after the empire collapsed and increased the effects of reli- 
gious and ethnic competition not only between different countries, but also inside 
one country. The problems of minorities, refugees' diaspora, and resurgent nation- 
alism are an effect of imperialism in the ancient Near East (the case of Israel is 
paramount) as in modern times (e.g., after the disruption of the Ottoman and 
Austro-Hungarian empires) . 

The effect of ancient imperialism on the outer peripheries seems to have been 
rather positive, in the sense of increasing their socio-economic complexity. We have 
already seen the "secondary" growth of formal polities (including urbanization, 
administration and writing, etc.). Furthermore, the economic relationships did not 
result in underdevelopment of the periphery, since trade items were rather special- 
ized (metals, semi-precious stones, etc.) and did not affect the basic productive 
structure, but only stimulated the activity of specialized craftspeople. 

Growth and collapse 

The collapse of ancient empires has been the first and most conspicuous feature to 
attract the attention of modern historians. Ruins and desert, left behind by the 
despotic states of the ancient Near Eastern civilizations and still visible, were 
explained as the unavoidable issue of misgovernment and over-taxation. In Bibli- 
cal studies, the ruins of Assyria and Babylonia were pointed to as proof of the effec- 
tiveness of the divine curse against cruel kings and peoples who conquered and 
destroyed Israel. 

A "scientific" approach to the problem of collapse has been used especially 
during the 1980s in the framework of system theory, as a result of interaction 
between various factors and feedbacks (Tainter 1988;Yoffee and Cowgill 1988). 
Collapse is viewed mostly as a result of over-exploitation of limited human and 
material resources by overly ambitious programs of growth and dominance - a 
secular and properly political version of the moral or religious explanation. An exter- 


nal shock by invading barbarians is commonly considered an occasional factor, the 
final strike against an already declining system (Liverani 2001). 

The problem of genesis and growth is less conspicuously visible in archaeologi- 
cal remains and has been more recently analyzed (e.g., Brinkman 1984). In earlier 
studies, the empire was visualized rather statically in its functioning, with no 
concern for the formative process. In contrast, this is now considered an important 
problem, not simply solved by recourse to the expansionist ideology of empires. 
Such an ideology can explain the motivations of the ruling class, but imperial expan- 
sion must be analyzed according to the procedures through which political and 
administrative control is established over ever larger areas. Recourse to models of 
"network of communications" and "territorial control" for the Assyrian empire in 
the formative period is just one example (Liverani 1988; cf. Postgate 1992). Even 
the most practical matters of costs and logistics for military campaigns should 
receive attention. 

The Crisis of Imperialism 

In this analysis, I have often underscored how historians' attitudes toward empires 
have changed through time. On the one hand, the more sophisticated procedures 
of analysis that are available today, both in archaeology and history, make possible 
a better articulated and critical view of empires, as compared to a rather simplistic 
and "totalitarian" view supported by scholars (and popular appreciation) in past 
generations. A recent collective volume (Alcock et al. 2001) includes so varied a 
typology of empires (territorial "classic" empires, trade networks, nomadic empires, 
city-less empires, enlarged chiefdoms, etc.) that the very effectiveness of the concept 
runs the risk of becoming lost. 

On the other hand, the research trends that are visible - with the over- 
evaluation of empires before the Second World War and their under-evaluation in 
the following period - clearly depend on the modern political environment. After 
the end of Western colonialism, the scholarly approach had to change, even if rather 
reluctantly, to give space to a multi-centered perspective on world history - even if 
the Euro-centered line of development still finds its place in secondary school 

Once a source of pride, the word "empire" - alluding to colonial domination - 
became a reason for shame: nobody now claims to be an empire or to carry on an 
imperialistic policy, or if someone does it implies an overwhelming arrogance. 
Despotic empires are openly criminalized, but economic empires are also subject 
to opportunistic censure - or at least to an (unconscious?) understatement of their 
political relevance. The use of the term in ancient history has also become more 
critical and qualified. In order to conceal the opposition of West vs. Orient, an oppo- 
sition that became unpopular both in Western democracies and Asiatic markets, the 
specific connotations of oppressive despotism, burdensome bureaucracy, and mili- 
tary expansion gave way to a multifarious and largely meaningless use of the term 


as applied to any form of multi-ethnic political domain. In economics, the crisis of 
imperialism generated recent trends - also visible in ancient Near Eastern studies 
- to complement the model of redistribution (best fitting an imperial apparatus) 
with one of market and private enterprise (Stolper 1985). 

Of course, the end of the Western colonial hold on the Middle East did not mean 
that the Western world renounced its political, economic, and historical pretensions. 
It simply means that another strategy has been assumed, namely the neo-capitalist 
one of controlling resources rather than territories, exploiting the low costs of local 
work-forces and stimulating local markets. Even archaeological activities in the 
Middle East have now - quite often - a neo-capitalist flavor, with salvage projects 
and regional planning programs in the service of local states. The old model of 
"imperial" political relationships, which reserved an active role for the ruling partner 
only, has been complemented by others such as Frank's "underdevelopment," 
Wallerstein's "world system," or Renfrew's "peer polity interaction," or others that 
provide every component in a system with its own space and role. 

The model of "underdevelopment" (Frank 1967; Emmanuel 1969; Amin 1973; 
also the historical approach by Wolf 1982), based on an analysis of the modern world, 
states that development in the core of (economic) empires brings about a parallel 
process of underdevelopment in the exploited periphery. This model has received 
scant attention in the field of ancient Near Eastern studies, yet its relevance has 
already been hinted at above. Ancient empires, like early modern ones, are based on 
the exchange of different kinds of resources; but, in the former cases, such imbal- 
ance did not bring about a different rate of development in the center vs. the periph- 
ery. Nevertheless, these problems deserve a specific analysis that is still missing. 

In contrast, the "world system" model (Wallerstein 1974, 1980, 1989) has been 
influential in ancient Near Eastern studies, mostly applied to late prehistoric and 
proto-historic periods (Kohl 1987) with particular insistence on the Uruk period 
(Algaze 1993), rather than to fully historical empires. The use of this label has been 
criticized in various ways. The "world" covered by the Uruk network is too small, 
and a label such as "regional system" would be more appropriate. Moreover, long- 
distance trade probably affected a minor part of the societies involved, which 
remained basically concerned with the exploitation of local resources in agriculture 
and animal husbandry. 

The model of "peer polity interaction" (Renfrew and Cherry 1986) is in fact 
most useful in describing the Late Bronze state of affairs, for example, when half a 
dozen states of regional extent (Egypt, Hittite, Mitanni, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam) 
interacted through trade and diplomacy more often than through war, with the 
impossibility for any of them to assume wider control or even some form of hege- 
mony. Yet each of the interacting states could have been convinced that it was the 
"central empire" in the system (Liverani 1990). 

In any case it seems clear that the last two generations of scholars have also been, 
consciously or not, influenced by their socio-political setting, both in discarding old 
ideas and in advancing new models. But the task of unveiling (and confessing) our 
own bias is much more difficult than underscoring that which influenced scholars 
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Part III 

Constructing Arguments, 
Understanding Perceptions 

Reinhard Bernbeck 
and Susan Pollock 

The papers in this section are concerned with various avenues for approaching the 
Near Eastern past. Two of the most basic concerns are the dimensions of time and 
space. Despite their universal importance, both are culturally specific, and the 
recognition of their changing perception has led to the development of landscape 
archaeologies and a return to a more historically oriented archaeology. Represen- 
tations from the past, whether texts or images, provide another set of ways to gain 
insights into past perceptions. Their intricate details may often reveal otherwise 
unrecoverable knowledge, but at the same time, such representations can conceal 
reality. Finally, since all knowledge of the past is fragmentary, a chapter on ethno- 
archaeology and analogies discusses some of the means archaeologists use to 
close evidential gaps. 

A theme that recurs in this section under different guises is what is called baby- 
lonische Eigenbegrifflichkeit or "Babylonian conceptual autonomy" (Landsberger 
1926). According to this concept, the Mesopotamian past needs to be understood 
and accounted for in its own terminology, implying a hermeneutic approach. Thus, 
if there is no word for either art or time in the ancient Mesopotamian languages 
(Ross, Charvat), one needs to think twice about applying those notions to the 
ancient Near East in the ways we commonly use them. Even for prehistoric periods 
or societies without writing, we need to make an effort to gain insights into the 
world of concepts, as Steadman argues in her plea for an analysis of landscape fea- 
tures. Thus, the original, purely linguistic idea of Eigenbegrifflichkeit needs to be 
broadened to the material record. In the absence of written documents, this search 
cannot result in the identification of words, but only in a matrix of concepts 
described in our present languages. Attempts to approach past worlds by including 
their own views are not necessarily new - indeed, they are the mainstay of much 
philological effort - but it is significant to note that they form a major part of the 
arguments of most chapters in this section, indicating their shift to center stage in 
Middle Eastern archaeology. 


Opposed to the notion of Eigenbegrifftichkeit is the external perspective, often 
associated with rational argumentation. Rationality (to be precise: instrumental 
rationality) dominates Western thinking and praxis. If Eigenbegrifftichkeit is to be an 
integral part of accounts of the past, can there be any place for rationality, which 
is so typical for our ways of thinking? Steadman explicitly argues that rational con- 
siderations also played an important role in past decisions. Indeed, the fashionable 
dismissal in its entirety of instrumental rationality as Western and therefore inap- 
propriate seems mistaken. Some of the postprocessual strands of contemporary 
archaeology have become so idealistic that they can no longer conceive of condi- 
tions in the past as existentially threatening. Instrumental rationality was likely an 
important aspect of both past worldview and praxis. 

However, inner perspectives and Eigenbegrifflichkeit pose additional problems. On 
the level of intellectual concepts, the ancient Near East is often treated as one single 
historical unit, and some of the papers assembled here allude to this idea. Charvat 
contends that concepts of time, established in the Uruk period, remained 
unchanged down to the Hellenistic period. Steadman speaks of "stasis" when inter- 
preting the habit of living on mounds, and Ross argues that basic iconography 
changed little over time. If time, praxis in space, or pictorial representations are 
approached with the goal of revealing an inner (past) perspective, one may rea- 
sonably ask, "whose perspective, and when?" In order to be useful, the idea of an 
Eigenbegrifflichkeit needs to be historically and socially contextualized. Some notions 
may change only in the longue duree, but that needs to be researched rather than 
assumed at the outset. 

As Zimansky points out, literacy is not one of those constant phenomena. Rather, 
uses and degrees of literacy changed substantially in the history of the ancient Near 
East. Writing was not just a prosaic means to an end, but occupied a dynamic cul- 
tural position. Similarly, the idea that there was only one way of seeing, typical for 
millennia of ancient Near Eastern "art," is challenged by Ross. Such challenges are 
predicated on a long-term view, and are therefore only possible from an external, 
academic perspective, the one with which, by necessity, one starts. It is only a dia- 
lectical movement between past Eigenbegrifftichkeit and present academic ideas 
(Bourdieu 1997) that ensures an escape from both present-day preconceptions and 
a normative, ahistorical view of the past. 

How do we explore such concepts as time and space, those highly abstract 
dimensions of Western modernity? Charvat points out that time was thought of as 
concrete by the ancient Sumerians. Time is not only partly analogous to space, but 
has "fullness," is related to natural events such as harvests, and is marked by eternal 
return and cyclically. However, there is also an underlying directionality, and in 
that respect, ancient Near Eastern perceptions of time were eschatological. While 
we have no problems imagining a combination of cyclicality and linearity of time 
(since they are part of our own life in the cycle of weeks and months and the open- 
endedness of history), the development of watches has produced a modern life- 
world where chronos is an independent, abstract entity that threatens us with 
schedules and deadlines. Charvat reminds us that a precondition for understand- 
ing ancient worldviews is that we throw out this baggage of our own ideas and try 


to imagine a world without the notion of "time." We may conceptualize practical 
life as a series of passages, movements that eschew the abstract, and a cosmology 
where there is no past other than ancestor-time (Steadman). However, it is insuf- 
ficient to try to leave behind our present self-understanding in order to capture the 
foreign past in an intellectual effort of phenomenological reductionism. In his con- 
tribution, Verhoeven argues that all archaeological argumentation is based to a 
considerable extent on analogies between past and present. The fragments of 
archaeological knowledge only become meaningful wholes through a medium that 
joins them (see also Bernbeck, this volume). The means to do so are derived prin- 
cipally from observations of and experiences with living people. One question that 
would merit further attention is the reach of analogies. Verhoeven's "structural 
analogy" seems to be based on the assumption that certain practices and their 
meanings have a universal relation, an idea that is against the current of particu- 
larism which dominates contemporary anthropology. 

For space, another abstract anchor of modern life, Steadman proposes a multi- 
layered analytical approach that tackles spatial meanings. While landscape archae- 
ology has promoted such an idea for quite some time, it has rarely been employed 
in studies of the ancient Near East (but see Smith 2003). Steadman shows that 
"cognitive landscapes" should not be read with one single set of meanings in mind, 
such as religion, but rather that space is a matrix on which multiple kinds of mean- 
ings can be grafted simultaneously, thus complicating the task of unraveling past 
spatial concepts. In her discussions, she employs both analogical reasoning and 

The chapters by Zimansky and Ross are concerned with matters of representa- 
tion, textual and pictorial. Apart from their production, images and texts are in 
three major ways interesting to archaeologists. They can reveal elements of past 
reality that are otherwise not preserved, they contain components of ancient ide- 
ologies, and they can give hints about their audiences. Images often include details 
about clothing styles, gestures, and people involved in activities; cuneiform and 
other texts provide a wealth of insights about the names of individuals and groups 
and the nature of their relations. Any such knowledge is unattainable from stan- 
dard archaeological data. However, both Zimansky and Ross point out that repre- 
sentations are deeply ideological in that reality is always rendered through a "filter" 
(Ross; see also Pollock, this volume), or what Zimansky calls a "smokescreen." 
Filters of representation are themselves historically specific, and provide additional 
glimpses into changing constructions of power relations. Texts and images are the 
main gateways to a history of ancient Near Eastern ideologies, a major research 
desideratum that is a necessary precondition for writing history itself, but as yet has 
been barely tackled (but see Liverani 1993). One of the reasons for this state of 
affairs is the assumption of an ancient Near Eastern "unchanging mind," an ori- 
entalist preconception that is still at the base of many syntheses of "Mesopotamian 
civilization" (e.g., Bottero 2000). 

Contexts in which representations were seen or read are an essential component 
of texts and imagery (see also Kujit and Chesson, this volume). Who was granted 
access to royal or divine statues and reliefs, who was allowed, and who could read 


ancient texts? As both Zimansky and Ross emphasize, this kind of information pro- 
vides essential insights into past reception of representations. Accounts of the past 
that aim to integrate such inner perspectives must be concerned with these issues. 
Unfortunately, philologists who deal with texts are rarely concerned with the con- 
texts from which their sources derive, thinking that texts "speak for themselves." In 
this way, as Zimansky notes, they spur - together with irresponsible art collectors 
- one sharply increasing mode of artifact retrieval, namely looting. 1 

Ancient texts and public images depict the world of the exceptional. Writing and 
reading were mostly elite activities, and even if images were exhibited in public, 
they were a distinctly urban phenomenon inaccessible to the majority of peasants. 
It is therefore highly unlikely that the details derived from such objects are repre- 
sentative of the routines and beliefs of ancient Near Eastern (non-elite) people. 
Only archaeological excavations of small villages and ephemeral camps of nomads 
can remedy this skewed picture. Unfortunately, data from such sites, destroyed by 
the hundreds every year in a vastly changing contemporary Middle East, are still 
so sparse that a "people's history of Mesopotamia" cannot be written. If we know 
anything about past habitual practices, it is the routines of the urban elites. 
Charvat's example of cylinder seals as material items that are so well tailored to the 
habitus of the ancient Mesopotamian urbanites is a case in point. We do not know 
whether the concepts Charvat sees exemplified in these tiny objects extended to the 

Near Eastern archaeology is therefore in need of a fundamental change in 
emphasis. However, as Verhoeven reminds us, we are prisoners of our own habitus, 
of unquestioned ways of seeking financial support for projects, conceptualizing 
them, and carrying them out. Our own professional routines and the structures that 
frame and reconfirm those routines need to change to draw us towards the habit- 
ual rather than to value principally the exceptional. 


1 However, looting in countries strained by armed conflict, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, 
or the Palestinian territories has to be understood also as a desperate attempt to main- 
tain a living. "Subsistence looting" should be differentiated from looting for financial 


Bottero, Jean, 2000 Religion and Reasoning in Mesopotamia. In Ancestors of the West, Jean 
Bottero, Clarisse Herrenschmidt, and Jean-Pierre Vernant, pp. 3-66. Teresa Lavender 
Fagan, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1997 Pascalian Meditations. Richard Nice, trans. Stanford: Stanford Uni- 
versity Press. 


Landsberger, Benno, 1926 Die Eigenbegrifflichkeit der babylonischen Welt. Islamica 

Liverani, Mario, ed., 1993 Akkad: The First World Empire. Padua: Sargon. 
Smith, Adam T., 2003 The Political Landscape. Constellations of Authority in Early Complex 

Polities. Berkeley: University of California Press. 


Ethnoarchaeology, Analogy, 
and Ancient Society 

Marc Verhoeven 


Ethnoarchaeology and analogy have long been, and still are, two significant topics 
of the archaeology of the Middle East and of archaeological theory in general. In 
this chapter I hope to make a contribution to the ongoing discussion about the use 
and usefulness of these closely related topics. There are already many general intro- 
ductions about ethnoarchaeology and analogy; after a short overview I specifically 
wish to focus on the problems with and possible solutions to the use of ethno- 
archaeology and analogy in the archaeology of the Middle East. 

This chapter consists of three main parts. First, ethnoarchaeology in the Middle 
East is discussed: what is it, and what are the main studies? Second, analogy in 
archaeology is considered: how can it be defined, what kinds of analogies can be 
identified, what are the problems with the use of analogy in archaeology and 
what solutions are there? Third, as an example, I examine the interpretation of early 
Neolithic human skulls, found without the skeleton and sometimes plastered, 
from the Levant and Anatolia, and so-called structural analogies are introduced 
as a method for opening up a social past. In the conclusion the role of ethno- 
archaeology in the modern Middle East for constructing the (distant) past is 

Ethnoarchaeology: Among the Living 

Ethnoarchaeology in its widest sense is the study of contemporary cultures in order 
to obtain data that can be used to aid archaeological interpretation (see, most 
recently, David and Kramer 2001). It is an important means for making sense of 
the production, use, and discard of past material culture, or put more generally, for 
investigating the relationships between human practice and material culture. The 


ethnographic data that can be used are observations in living communities (for- 
merly also referred to as "living archaeology," "action archaeology," or "archaeo- 
logical ethnography"), artifact studies, and experiments. 1 

Middle Eastern scholars have practiced all three forms of ethnoarchaeology. In 
the following sections I shall discuss each of these categories briefly, starting with 
observations in living communities. 

Village studies 

Village studies refer to extended observations by archaeologists of human practice 
in "traditional" villages. 2 Studies of architecture, village lay-out, use of space, social 
structure, kinship regulations, functions of artifacts, formation processes, agricul- 
ture, etc., can all be part of this approach. 3 Pioneering village studies are those of 
Watson (1979) and Kramer (1982). In her studies in three Iranian villages in 
western Iran (Hasanabad, Shirdasht, and Ain Ali), Watson set out to present as 
many data as possible about technology and subsistence in these villages, in order 
to provide sources of hypotheses for archaeologists working with comparable ma- 
terials. Her basic assumption was uniformitarian: she maintained that the past 
cannot be understood without reference to the present. She was particularly inter- 
ested in relationships between village lay-out, nature of the domestic architecture 
and artifacts on the one hand, and population size and socio-economic structure 
on the other. The first part of Watson's study dealt with economic organization, 
agricultural methods, animals, domestic technology, kinship, and the supernatural 
in the three villages. In the second part, so-called behavioral correlates and unifor- 
mitarian principles (see below) are discussed, especially the relationship between 
archaeology and ethnography. 

A more recent example of village studies is Home (1994). Like the above- 
mentioned studies, Home investigated relationships between the material and 
socio-cultural dimensions of human settlement, this time in a group of small agri- 
cultural villages in Khar o Tauran, a village district on the edge of the great central 
desert of the Iranian Plateau. Particularly interesting is the final chapter, in which 
Home tests at three different levels the "fit" between selected spatial (rooms, 
houses, and fields) and social aspects (activities, households, and communities) of 
settlement. 4 

Artifact studies 

Good examples of artifact studies are provided by the work of Ochsenschlager. 
During the excavations at the Sumerian site of al-Hiba in southern Iraq, Ochsen- 
schlager collected ethnographic information in order to interpret archaeological 
data from the excavations. Modern use of sheep, pottery, mud objects, and weaving 
were studied (Ochsenschlager 1974, 1993). For example, combining the ethno- 
graphic information with the archaeological data, the spinning of thread and yarn, 


construction of fishing nets, and cloth weaving could be postulated and described 
for the site of al-Hiba (Ochsenschlagerl993). Furthermore, on the basis of analogy 
to pottery in nearby villages, Ochsenschlager was able to designate six types of con- 
tainers at this site. A similar approach was taken by McQuitty (1984) in an article 
about clay ovens in Jordan. 

By explicitly investigating the use of archaeological and ethnographic objects and 
by contextualizing both sets of data, these studies go beyond traditional archaeo- 
logical inferences, which on the basis of form-function resemblances assume, rather 
than investigate, functions of ancient artifacts from present examples. 5 

Experimental studies 

There is an active type of research that focuses on obtaining experimental data 
regarding the production and use of artifacts in order to employ these data to inter- 
pret similar archaeological artifacts (e.g., Ingersoll et al. 1977). Especially well- 
known in this respect are experiments with flint (and obsidian) tools. Most often, 
traces of production and use are studied by means of microwear analysis (through 
reproduction of bodily movement with tools). Sickle blades are particularly popular 
in this respect. For example, in a study of glossed Neolithic "Cayonii" tools from 
sites in Anatolia and Iraq, Anderson found that, contrary to expectation, these arti- 
facts were not related in any way to cereal harvesting. Instead, they seem to have 
been used for decorating stone objects. "Cayonii" tools, then, may indicate the fin- 
ishing of "prestige" objects such as bowls and bracelets (Anderson 1994). Another 
example of experimental studies is the work of Campana, who made bone tools 
(such as awls and spatulas) and used them on a variety of materials in order to 
provide clues for interpreting Natufian and Neolithic bone tools from sites in the 
Zagros and the Levant (Campana 1989). 

Analogy: the Only Way 

Following Wylie (1985:28), I define analogy as the "selective transportation of 
information from source to subject on the basis of a comparison that, fully devel- 
oped, specifies how the 'terms' compared are similar, different, or of unknown 
likeness." There is a source (most often the present) 6 and a subject (the past) side 
in the analogy. As indicated by many researchers, analogical reasoning is at the 
core of all archaeological interpretation; we can only understand the past through 
the present, which is our ultimate frame of reference. Ethnoarchaeology, then, is a 
particular form of analogical reasoning; it is a specific way of "enriching" our frame 
of reference (or habitus: see below) so as to interpret the past in an informed 

Before discussing the basic problems with the use of analogy in archaeology, it 
is appropriate to introduce the different forms of analogy, as distinguished by Wylie 
(1985; see also Bernbeck 1997:85-108). 


Genetic analogy 

Genetic analogy refers to the nowadays rejected culture-historical practice of tracing 
a direct line of descent of cultures on the basis of formal similarities. A famous 
example of this is Sollas's (1911) parallel between ethnographically documented 
hunting groups and prehistoric cultures. Genetic analogy was based on two main 
principles: (1) evolutionism (or anti-evolutionism): modern and ancient societies 
were treated as equal; (2) diffusionism: migrations were postulated on the basis of 
the analogies. Of course, the main problem with genetic analogies is the premise of 
direct historical continuity between two cultures which are not only widely sepa- 
rated in time, but also in space. 

Direct historical analogy 

The direct historical analogy holds that when continuity between the past and the 
present can be assumed, many formal similarities between the information being 
compared may be acknowledged (e.g., Watson 1 980:56). 7 There are two main prob- 
lems related to this approach. First, problems related to the comparison of proper 
contexts may arise (e.g., Noll 1996:246, 248). For instance, two groups in the same 
area may have produced very different artifacts. Cultural change, furthermore, may 
have led to drastic changes in many other respects. With regard to the Middle East, 
for example, direct historical analogy involves a very long timespan: at least 2,500 
years, if one considers the Ancient Near East to end with the Achaemenids. There- 
fore, no useful similarities may have survived, making direct historical analogies 
with modern Middle Eastern cultures very problematic. Second, direct analogies 
situated in the same region or period of interest are frequently unavailable. 

New analogy 

In 1961 Ascher introduced the concept of new analogy, formulating a new goal for 
analogies: reconstruction of human practice, something not immediately observ- 
able in the archaeological record. Continuity between source and subject side in 
the analogy is not necessary in this kind of comparison. For Ascher, source and 
subject sides in the comparison should be comparable in at least (but not only) two 
respects: (1) ecology, and (2) technology. Focusing on these two basic aspects, the 
new analogy was problematic, since it is questionable whether similar environments 
are always manipulated in a similar fashion, as was supposed (as technology is obvi- 
ously related to the environment). 

Formal analogy 

Formal analogies, as opposed to the former direct historical and new analogies, are 
based on more than one source. Specific and similar features of different modern 


communities are used to interpret comparable features of past communities. Formal 
analogies, then, work from the assumption that if two artifacts or contexts 
have some common properties, they probably also have other similarities. There are 
three main problems with formal analogies. First, the source communities are only 
comparable with regard to certain elements, resulting in negligence of potentially 
important differences. Second, it must be proven that the various sources are his- 
torically independent. For instance, it must be established that different social 
groups on the source side are not in fact part of one (ancient) tradition. Third, 
correlation of specific and similar features does not necessarily indicate cause- 
effect relationships, and it may lead to rather mechanistic and generalizing 

Relational analogy 

Relational analogies are comparable to formal analogies, but there must be clear 
relationships between specific features on the source side of the analogy: a natural 
or cultural link between the different aspects in the analogy is sought after. Accord- 
ing to Wylie (1985:95), they are based upon "knowledge about underlying 'princi- 
ples of connection' that structure source and subject and that assure, on this basis, 
the existence of specific further similarities between them." In relational analogies 
it is not only the attributes of artifacts, but also their cultural context that are 
taken into account. The relevance of the association of two variables needs to be 

Complex analogy 

In complex analogies, finally, various relational analogies are used. Through the 
combination of different, and therefore multiple sources for each aspect on the 
subject side, a new societal whole can emerge that has no one "precedent" in one 
source. In this way, the past can definitely be different from the (source-side) 

The Problems with Analogy 

As will be clear by now, "reasoning by analogy" is at the core of ethnoarchaeology, 
and in fact of all archaeological research; without comparisons, juxtapositions, and 
analogies, interpretive frameworks cannot be established. In this process of com- 
parison, however, one runs the risk of transposing one's own cultural categories to 
the object of study (e.g., Shanks andTilley 1987:7-28). It has been argued that if 
we interpret the past by analogy to the present, we can never find out about forms 
of society and culture which do not exist today. Furthermore, deterministic uni- 
formitarianism must be avoided; it cannot be assumed that societies and cultures 
that are similar in some aspects are entirely similar. Another often heard criticism 


against the use of analogy is that analogies can never be checked or proven, because 
alternative analogies, which fit the data from the past equally well, can always be 

In my view, the following four problems need to be addressed when using 
analogies in archaeological research: (1) formation processes, (2) the form- 
function problem, (3) hypothesis testing, (4) "normalization." In this section these 
problems will be introduced; in the next section some possible solutions will be 

Formation processes 

Put very generally, formation processes create the evidence of past societies and 
environments that remains for the archaeologist to study. There are natural and cul- 
tural formation processes. Cultural formation processes include the deliberate or 
accidental activities of humans; natural formation processes refer to natural or envi- 
ronmental events which result in, and have an effect upon, the archaeological 
record. Formation processes can be divided into discard processes, disposal modes, 
reclamation processes, and disturbance processes (Schiffer 1987). All these 
processes indicate that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the systemic 
context (a past cultural system) and the archaeological context (materials which have 
passed through a past cultural system, and are now the objects of archaeological 
research) (Schiffer 1972). 

Formation processes, then, intervene between past practice and present discov- 
eries. The past can only be described and interpreted via observations made in 
the present, and these observations are based on (or rather, filtered through) the 
formation processes of the archaeological record. With regard to the use of analogy 
in archaeology, formation processes show that the archaeological record is a very 
specific entity; it is, as it were, a distorted reflection of past practice, leaving the 
archaeologist with material culture only. Murray and Walker (1988:250-251) write 
in this respect about the "ontological singularity of the archaeological record." It 
has to be acknowledged that the source and subject sides, representing respectively 
a living social system and a dead one (or the remains of a living system) in an 
archaeological analogy are of a wholly different nature. The main problem here, 
in other words, is one of potential incompatibility of systemic and archaeological 

Form-function correlations 

The so-called form-function problem refers to the disputable practice of inferring 
a similarity in function on the basis of a similarity in form between source and 
subject sides, or etic and emic perspectives, in an archaeological analogy. 8 The 
problem, of course, is that formally similar objects may have entirely different func- 
tions and meanings (e.g., Noll 1996:247). 


Hypothesis testing 

Third, something should be said about the practice of testing analogies. In the tra- 
ditional processual way of using ethnoarchaeology and analogy, information from 
the source side of the comparison was most often used to test hypotheses. A famous 
example of this is Narroll's average of 10 sq.m of living space per person, which 
was established on the basis of a cross-cultural analysis and which has been often 
used for archaeological population estimates (Narroll 1962). However, the basic 
problem with the "hypothetico-deductive method" is that: "The emphasis on 
hypothesis testing, and the necessity to formulate this hypothesis prior to the 
testing, leads to the definition of certain categories, into which the data are slotted 
if they do not deviate too much from the expected pattern," as van Gijn and 
Raemaekers (1999:50) have rightly argued (and see Hodder 1982:20-23; Wylie 
1985:86-88). Moreover, part of the answer is already provided by the hypothesis. 
To return to the above example: Narroll's 10 sq.m living space per person excludes 
a different population density in the past: it is an assumption, not an outcome of 
the analysis. On the other hand, the formulation of hypotheses may have a healthy 
effect: when one does not find what was expected data may be re-evaluated, poten- 
tially leading to new information. 


The form-function problem is directly related to the concept of normalization, 
coined by Murray, who states that: "alongside the process of construction [or better: 
re-construction: M.V.] in archaeology there operates a parallel process of 'normal- 
ization' where the conventional concepts and categories which underwrite the inter- 
pretation of human action defuse potentially disturbing archaeological data" 
(Murray 1992:731). To put it dramatically, normalization denies a past that is dif- 
ferent from the present, and therefore represents a denial of history (Murray 
1992:734, and see also Binford 1968:13). Murray and Walker (1988:251) note in 
this respect that: "the bulk of practitioners sacrifice this significant property so that 
they may apply conventional interpretations and explanations of archaeological data 
thereby gaining meaning and plausibility which 'trickle down' from the contempor- 
ary social sciences." 

At this point, it is the archaeologist who becomes the subject of (archaeological) 
research. Archaeologists, like any other social or natural scientists, have what the 
French sociologist Bourdieu (1977) called a (professional) habitus. This is a term 
that designates the cognitive framework which, largely unconsciously, is mobilized 
for the interpretation and attribution of meaning to material objects. Moreover, it 
refers, as the word implies, to habits, customs, and dispositions, which are at the 
basis of and which shape the above-mentioned framework. According to Bourdieu, 
the habitus is informed by structuring principles (e.g., social and ritual rules, 
taboos, etc.), together representing structure, which in their turn inform practice, or 
social action. Thus, archaeology is a specific form of practice, informed by structure 


and habitus. Inevitably, an archaeologist's reconstruction of the past is structured 
by his/her habitus. Normalization denotes the danger of wholly ethnocentric recon- 
structions, but as indicated earlier, the past can only be understood through the 
present, therefore, some form of normalization seems inescapable. Whether we like 
it or not, normalization, while presenting a problem, seems to be part of the "logic" 
of archaeological reasoning. 

A Proper Use of Analogy in Archaeology? 

Reasoning by analogy is indispensable and it will be clear that ethnoarchaeology 
and archaeology cannot do without it. Dispensing with analogical inferences, there- 
fore, is no solution to the problems indicated above. How, then, should archaeolo- 
gists go about using analogies? Obviously, there is no clear-cut solution, and I will 
not try to present a final answer. My purpose here is to provide some possible direc- 
tions for a proper use of analogy in archaeology. To begin with, however, I want to 
make three general statements. 

First, I would like to point out that while presenting a major problem for recon- 
structing past practice, analogy also opens up the past for us: the use of it is at the 
same time both a prerequisite and an impediment for analyzing and understanding past 
behavior. Secondly, ethnographic analogies should be regarded as "media for 
thought" (or examples) rather than as models to be either fitted to or tested against 
archaeological data (Tilley 1996:2). Thirdly, I think we have to agree with Parker 
Pearson (1999:21) who notes, with regard to the use of analogy in the archaeolog- 
ical study of death, that, "By looking at the diversity of the human responses to 
death, archaeologists trying to interpret the past can attempt to slough off ethno- 
centric presuppositions." This is of course true for all spheres of life. Thus, by study- 
ing many different examples, possible new and unexpected ways of interpreting the 
past may be discovered. 

With regard to the basic problems with analogy in archaeology, it is my con- 
tention that before using an analogy formation processes of the archaeological 
record should be addressed. It is absolutely crucial to have a clear idea about the 
nature of the archaeological evidence used in the analogy, i.e., the subject side. Fur- 
thermore, the contexts (spatial, chronological, etc.) of the finds included in the 
analogy need to be taken into account. In other words, we need to know as much 
as possible about the fragmented archaeological database before using analogies. In 
an earlier study, dealing with the use of space and social relations in a Neolithic 
settlement in northern Syria, I have presented various methods for assessing the 
impact of formation processes and for reconstructing the use of space (Verhoeven 
1999). Only on the basis of an understanding of these issues can a reconstruction 
of the past systemic context be attempted. Such a reconstruction is necessary in 
order to "enrich" the archaeological record, i.e., to be able to compare a (frag- 
mented) past systemic context with a contemporary systemic context and to make 
the two sides of the comparison as compatible as possible. 


Regarding the problem of hypothesis testing (and normalization), Murray and 
Walker (1988:251-252) have proposed that "working hypotheses drawn from ana- 
logical inferences be preferentially accepted inasmuch as they (a) may be refutable 
within the universe of data they are invoked to interpret, and (b) anticipate the like- 
lihood of changes in one (or more) parameters vis-a-vis the analogical case(s), the 
detection of which (i.e., the changes) is susceptible to the strategy in (a)." Murray 
and Walker advocate a refutation strategy, rather than the common confirmation 
strategy, which often results in circularity and self-fulfilling prophecies, because an 
inability to refute a hypothesis helps to provide further justification for their accep- 
tance (see alsoTringham 1978:179). In a refutation strategy hypotheses that with- 
stand refutation become those of choice for incorporation into provisional models 
for future inquiry. So-called biconditional analogical hypotheses (e.g., "if x, and 
only if x, then y") are proposed in this respect, since such biconditional proposi- 
tions may offer working hypotheses that are potentially refutable within the uni- 
verse of data. 

With regard to refutation, however, I think we have to agree with Hodder 
(1982:22-23) when he argues that one cannot disprove in an absolute sense in 
archaeology any more than one can prove: any disproof is itself a hypothesis. So 
whether we "prove" or "disprove" an analogy, the problem remains the same. 

Bernbeck (1997:101-104, 2000) advocates the use of different analogies ("a jux- 
taposition of different scenarios"), i.e., a use of complex analogies, instead of one 
single analogy. By using complex analogies, archaeological features are interpreted 
with the help of various contemporary features and/or communities. The following 
steps should be taken when using complex analogies: (1) comparison of each source 
with the subject in a systematic way (analysis of differences, similarities and incom- 
mensurables); (2) incomparable sources must be withdrawn from the study; (3) 
study of relationships between elements in sources which are used for interpreting 
a specific archaeological feature; (4) selection of elements that show a cause-effect 
relationship; (5) comparison of these source elements to subject elements; (6) syn- 
thesis of analyses of different elements. Bernbeck (1994, 2000) has applied complex 
analogies with some success in an analysis of Neolithic economy in Mesopotamia, 
e.g., for describing and interpreting the construction of clay buildings, the use of 
pottery kilns, and the herding of animals, using different sources for each of these 

Structural Analogies: Opening up a Social Past 

In this section, I would like to present an example of analogical reasoning in archae- 
ology taken from my own work. As part of a research program dealing with the 
development and meaning of ritual practices of early Neolithic farming communi- 
ties of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB: ca. 8600-7000 cal B.C.E.) in the Levant 
and Anatolia, I have analyzed human skulls, severed from the skeleton, found 
at sites such as Jericho, 'Ain Ghazal, Ramad, and Nahal Hemar in the Levant 


and Cayonii and Nevah Cori in southeast Anatolia (Verhoeven 2002a, and see 
Verhoeven 2002b). These skulls (isolated or in groups) were found on house floors 
or in pits beneath house floors or courtyards (see e.g., Bienert 1991). Apart 
from undecorated skulls, plastered skulls have been found (Kuijt and Chesson, this 
volume). Generally speaking, these skulls have a "mask" of plaster covering the 
frontal parts of the skull, with modeled facial features (figure 12.1). The eye-sockets 
may be left open or are filled with plaster, and occasionally eyes are represented 
by shells. Most often the mask shows traces of paint. Clearly, the skulls (unplas- 
tered as well as plastered) were meant to be seen and circulated in PPNB 
communities. 9 

The traditional and most accepted interpretation with regard to the skulls (espe- 
cially the plastered ones) is that they are part of an ancestor cult (Bienert 1991; 
Bienert and Muller-Neuhof 2000). However, there seems to have been more to 
human skulls than ancestor worship alone. First, quite a number of unplastered 
skulls of (young) children seem to have been removed and cached, and it is ques- 
tionable that they were regarded as real ancestors, since they had of course no off- 
spring. Secondly, it has been noted that plastered Neolithic skulls in the Near East 
were selected on the basis of their morphological characteristics; only abnormally 
wide skulls were plastered. Probably, these skulls were deformed in vivo at a young 
age (Arensburg and Hershkovitz 1988; Meiklejohn et al. 1992). Thus, there prob- 
ably was a relationship between deformation and the selection of skulls for ritual 
treatment post mortem. 

In order to better understand the meanings of plastered and unplastered human 
skulls, I have analyzed the ritual use of human skulls in ethnographic contexts, espe- 
cially among the Naga of Assam and the Iatmul of the Sepik area in Papua New 
Guinea. After the presentation of the case study (which is a summary of Verhoeven 
2002a) I will explain on which basis the selection of skulls was made, and in general 
how I have used analogy. 

The Naga 

The Naga believe in the existence of a powerful life-force which is principally 
located in the head. This life-force of a person can be transmitted in various 
ways, both during life and after death, and it can benefit individuals as well as the 
village as a whole. The life-force ensures well-being and fecundity. Fecundity 
is central to Naga life (Simoons 1968). In many and various rituals, life-force 
and fecundity are explicitly linked to human heads. For instance, taking an enemy 
head and bringing it back to the village is done in order to increase the "store of 
fertility." In the so-called Feasts of Merit, the source of the fertilizing power stems 
from the heads of human beings, which in various rituals is transferred to the 
symbols used in the feasts. Interestingly, like the Feasts of Merit, death rituals are 
related to harvest or sowing, thus again showing a connection between death and 



Figure 12.1 Plastered human skull from Jericho (sources: Kenyon 1981: PI. 52;Verhoeven 2002a: 
Figure 8, reproduced by permission) 

The latmul 

Iatmul culture and ceremonial life are centered around the men's house. Very 
important ritual objects which are stored in the men's houses of the Iatmul are dec- 
orated (plastered and painted) human skulls, both of ancestors and of slain enemies. 
The skulls strongly resemble the PPNB plastered skulls (compare figures 12.1 and 
12.2). The painting resembles the facial painting of both men and women on ritual 
occasions; it was a means of identifying oneself with mythical beings or ancestors. 
The skulls played a role in various rituals, especially fertility and death rituals 
(Smidt 1996). As in the Naga case, therefore, human skulls were not only related 
to death, but also to fecundity. 

Meanings of PPNB skulls 

Let us now look at how I have dealt with the ethnographic "examples," and how 
they fit in the process of interpretation. First of all, in the study referred to above 



Figure 1 2.2 Decorated human skull from Papua New Guinea (latmul people, Sepik province) 
(source: Fur and Martin !999:l56;Verhoeven 2002a: Figure 9, reproduced by permission) 

(Verhoeven 2002a) I have critically evaluated the current views concerning the 
meaning of PPNB (plastered) skulls. As it appeared that the notion of ancestor 
worship is not sufficient (see above), it became clear that other possibilities had to 
be looked for. I felt that it was first necessary to contextualize the PPNB skulls by 
relating them to other PPNB ritual practices. This has been attempted in an analy- 
sis of indications for rituals at five PPNB sites, located in the Levant ('Ain Ghazal 
and Kfar HaHoresh) and southeast Anatolia (Nevali Cori, Cayonu, and Gobekli 
Tepe).The main indications of rituals at these places (and many other PPNB sites) 
seem to be "special" buildings, burials, skull caches, plastered skulls, large statu- 
ary, and human and animal figurines. Based upon an integrated analysis of these 
features, in which I searched for structural similarities in meaning, it appeared that 
there seem to be four basic so-called structuring principles characteristic of PPNB 
rituals in general: communality (many PPNB rituals are marked by public display), 
dominant symbolism (the use of highly visual, powerful, and evocative symbols), 
people-animal linkage (the physical and symbolical attachment of humans with 
animals), and vitality. Vitality is a complex issue, referring to three related notions: 
domestication, fecundity, and life-force. Domestication not only refers to the taming 
of wild animals and plants, but also to the social and ideological process of con- 


trolling society (through rituals). Fecundity in general refers to fertility (i.e., soil 
fertility and birth-giving), and the related notion of sexuality. With life-force is 
meant the vital power which principally remains in the head; this notion will be dis- 
cussed in more detail below. Of course, all these terms are etic, but the analysis 
indicated that they denote important emic categories. 

With regard to the skulls, as a next step, information about the ritual use and 
meaning of human skulls, plastered as well as unplastered, was gathered from ethno- 
graphic data (see also Bienert and Muller-Neuhof 2000:27). It is important to 
realize that this search for analogies was steered by my reconstruction of the four 
basic characteristics of PPNB ritual life. Initially, I chose the Iatmul example 
because of the remarkable similarities between decorated Iatmul skulls and deco- 
rated PPNB skulls. In other words: I explicitly used form-function correlations. 
Analysis of this example made me aware of the possible relationship between death 
and fecundity and of the concept of life-force. In fact, it appears that in many cul- 
tures all over the world human skulls, plastered as well as unplastered, are regarded 
as powerful symbolic and ritual objects which refer to life-force, fecundity, and 
related concepts (e.g., Fur and Martin 1999). The use of additional different cases 
(i.e., of complex analogy) would be interesting and necessary to validate the present 

To return to our PPNB skulls, I have argued that while ancestors as mythical 
persons were probably worshiped, human skulls (plastered as well as unplastered) 
taken from skeletons were specially honored because they were the seat of life-force, 
which could be used to ensure fecundity - of the fields, domesticated animals, and 
people - and well-being. Perhaps in the Levant there was a two-level ritual and ide- 
ological hierarchy with regard to human skulls and vitality, consisting of (1) plas- 
tered human skulls, which are all of adults and probably representing especially 
important persons (ritual leaders?), and of (2) unplastered skulls, which perhaps 
represented less important ancestors. In southeast Anatolia, however, the absence 
of plastered PPNB skulls may suggest an absence of such a hierarchy. While the 
skulls of adults were probably related to both an ancestor cult and vitality, it is sug- 
gested that children's skulls were mainly related to vitality. In the PPNB, then, the 
living and the dead were integrated into a system that seems to have been basically 
concerned with ancestor worship, fecundity, and life-force. 

Structural analogy 

I will now evaluate how I have used analogies on a more theoretical and method- 
ological level. The basic questions here are: (1) geographically and chronologically 
the source and subject sides in the analogy are very far apart; how are they to be 
linked? and (2) have I normalized the past by imposing the analogies upon it? 

First and foremost relevance ("principles of connection that structure source and 
object, supposing further similarities between them," see above) must be consid- 
ered (Stahl 1993). I felt that notwithstanding the distance, the analogies used are 
relevant since they are formally quite similar, and, importantly, also on a deeper, 


structural level there seem to be concordances. In fact, I have attempted to isolate 
general structuring principles of meaning and symbolism, rather than culturally 
specific practices (which are analyzed later). In other words, I have used what I 
like to introduce as structural analogies in a search for an understanding of the struc- 
ture of ancient features and practices by analyzing the structure of comparable 
features or practices in the ethnographic record. 10 In our example, structure was 
represented by the principles of fecundity and life-force; practice has been recon- 
structed by describing (interpreting) the way human skulls were used in PPNB 

Using structural analogies, then, it is argued that formal similarities between 
source and subject sides in the analogy (thus using form-function correlations, 
which seem inescapable) may indicate general principles of meaning and symbol- 
ism. When comparing formal similarities in structural analogies, information about 
structure on the source side is used to reconstruct structure on the subject side. 
However, as indicated above, archaeological objects and their context can be very 
important means for investigating and isolating structure on the source side of the 
analogy. Structure should not be transposed from source to subject; it should be 
used for acquiring a general idea about the structuring principles related to the 
archaeological objects in the comparison. Even if the number of formal similarities 
is limited, structural analogies can be used, since asWylie (1985:106) has indicated: 
"A source that shares as little as a single attribute with the subject in question may 
be used as the basis for a (partial) reconstructive argument insofar as it exhibits 
clearly the specific consequences or correlates associated with this attribute that 
may be expected to occur in the subject context." To get access to more specific, 
local meanings (i.e., to contextualize the principles), ancient practice should be 
reconstructed, before and after the use of the structural analogy. This may be 
accomplished by generating archaeological context, for example through a spatial 
analysis, including the study of formation processes (Verhoeven 1999). Structural 
analogies thus move from general structures to specific practices, and the relations 
between structure and practice should be critically evaluated. 

It should be emphasized here that structural analogies, like Ascher's "new 
analogy," refer to notions such as ritual, ideology, and symbolism, and not to 
detailed comparisons of artifacts. In other words, in structural analogies material 
culture is used to obtain access to non-material culture (e.g., Noll 1996:246, 249). 

Now, dealing with the second question, it could be objected that I have nor- 
malized the past by imposing "modern" concepts upon it. Undeniably, I have used 
the present to interpret the past, but as has been indicated above, there does not 
seem to be any other way. By using various relevant (structural) analogies, and by 
explicitly paying attention to archaeological and ethnographic context, I believe I 
have opened up, and not closed down, the past, by suggesting an alternative inter- 
pretation of PPNB skulls. Of course, the PPNB "skull cult" was different from the 
veneration of skulls in Papua New Guinea or Assam, but at a deep, structural level 
the existence of similarities does seem to be defendable. The data on the source 
side should not be regarded as parallels, but as examples, once again indispensable 
for opening up, and not closing down, the past! 11 


To summarize, in using structural analogies the following steps should be 

1 Critical evaluation of hypotheses concerning function and meaning of archae- 
ological feature(s) or practice(s) to be interpreted. 

2 Analysis of archaeological context (formation processes, spatial analysis, etc.) 
in order to reconstruct past systemic context. 

3 Preliminary reconstruction of structuring principles of archaeological objects. 

4 Preliminary reconstruction of ancient practice. 

5 (Cross-cultural) search for comparable ethnographic examples. 

6 Analysis of structure (or general structuring principles) underlying these 

7 Comparison of archaeological and ethnographic records (identification of 
similarities and differences). 

8 Critical evaluation of the eloquence of the comparison: (a) relevance, (b) gen- 
erality, and (c) "goodness-of-fit" must be assessed (Hodder 1982:22). 

9 Reconstruction of structuring principles of archaeological objects. 

10 Reconstruction of ancient practice. 

1 1 Synthesis (structure, practice, function, meaning) . 

Conclusion: the Past, the Present, and the Future 

The use of analogy and ethnoarchaeology - a particular form of analogy - in the 
archaeology of the Middle East and in archaeology in general is an indispensable 
method for making sense of the past. Without their use, archaeologists would be 
describers, and not interpreters, of the past, i.e., archaeology would not be what it 
should be: a social science, dealing with past social practice. The use of so-called 
structural analogies has been proposed as a way of opening up such a social and 
meaningful past. 

Especially due to the pace of modernization in the Middle East, "traditional" 
ways of life (but see below) are rapidly vanishing (e.g., Watson 1980:59). Impor- 
tant and exemplary ethnoarchaeological studies in "traditional" villages like those 
of Watson, Kramer, and Home will become more and more difficult to carry out. 
For the people living in these villages, modernization has obvious advantages, espe- 
cially with regard to the often laborious agricultural and domestic activities. For 
archaeologists, however, "traditional" villages are an important source of informa- 
tion for a wide array of topics: function and meaning of artifacts, organization of 
labor, relations between wealth and material culture, kinship systems, agricultural 
systems, building techniques, production of artifacts and food, etc. Of course, one 
can find all these things in "modern" villages as well, but it can be assumed that 
"traditional" villages are more comparable to archaeological ones, at least in ma- 
terial respects. Many a Middle Eastern archaeologist will recall the experience of 
excavating artifacts and structures quite similar to those of the "traditional" village 
where his/her base camp is. 12 


This brings us to the important question of the extent to which present-day 
Middle Eastern societies, situated in a modernized setting and having witnessed 
dramatic political, economic, and social changes, are representative of the past (both 
of the Middle East and in general) . Ethnoarchaeological research in "traditional" 
villages does not deal with "living fossils"; one would deny history by arguing so 
(cf. Wolf 1982). However, as already indicated, it is undeniable that while "tradi- 
tional" villages are different in many aspects from (pre-)historic ones, there are also 
many formal similarities, suggesting at least some continuity in social and economic 
practices. Moreover, as has been argued, while there may be many differences 
between source and subject sides in analogies, it is especially relevance (formally and 
structurally) and context that are important in an assessment of the usefulness of 
analogies. Thus, even in "semi-traditional" or "modern" Middle Eastern villages 
relevant analogies may be found. 

Therefore, ethnoarchaeological research will remain an important tool for pro- 
viding data with regard to interpretation of the archaeological record. Such research 
should on the one hand be based on the kinds of questions archaeologists have, but 
on the other hand, practices or artifacts which are disappearing fast should be 
recorded as soon as possible, even if as yet no archaeologists are working on such 
practices or materials. Of course, in the case of village studies, settlements and their 
occupants are not museums or laboratories, where people turn into objects. Instead, 
we deal with subjects, with whom we should not only communicate about the past, 
but also about the present. The present, i.e., ethnoarchaeology and analogy, will 
remain an indispensable means for understanding the past, also in the future. 


This research was supported by the Council for the Humanities, which is part of 
the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). I am indebted to 
Reinhard Bernbeck and Susan Pollock for their stimulating criticism and many 
useful suggestions which considerably improved the original version of this paper. 
Erick van Driel made the drawings. Ans Bulles corrected the English text. 


1 In a recent publication Owen and Porr use the term ethno-analogy as a synonym for 
ethnoarchaeology (Owen and Porr, eds. 1999). 

2 In the conclusion I will return to the problematic concept of "traditional villages." 

3 Bernbeck (1997:105) would call this "contextual ethnoarchaeology." His "Middle Range 
ethnoarchaeology" deals with archaeological formation processes. 

4 For other village, and related, studies see e.g., Antoun 1972; Holmes 1975; Lutfiyya 
1966; Mortensen 1993; Nicolaisen 1963; Sweet 1960. 

5 The Traditional Crafts of Persia (Wulff 1966) remains useful for the interpretation of Near 
Eastern artifacts. 


6 Apart from present sources, historical sources can also be used in an analogy. 

7 A related term is ethnohistory, in which the history of a region is applied to archaeolog- 
ical problems in that region (Orme 1973:483). 

8 The same holds for form-meaning relationships. In fact I should write form- 
function/meaning. For reasons of convenience, however, I here use the formulation 

9 Garfinkel (1994:170) reconstructs the following stages in the "life-cycle" of PPNB 
skulls: (1) burial of corpse, usually under the floor of a house; (2) opening of the grave 
(after a year or so) and removal of the skull; (3) possible selection for decoration (for 
special persons?); (4) storage or display; (5) burial of skull. 

10 For a critique of the (anthropological) search for structure see Guenther 1999:226-247. 

1 1 Some researchers (e.g., Bernbeck 2000; Shanks andTilley 1992) have argued that there 
is no past; that there is only a present discussion about a past time. 

12 Fragmented and limited observations of traditional activities near their excavation 
sites by archaeologists are described as "fortuitous ethnoarchaeology" by Longacre 


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The Ancient Sumerians in 
the Tides of Time 

Petr Charvat 


The perception of time is one of the most important and most crucial characteris- 
tics of any civilization that existed in historical times or that exists even now. It could 
be demonstrated repeatedly that sensitivity to the flow of time and recognition of 
the temporal coordinate of reality constitute one of the basic traits of humanity, 
and, indeed, that the concern with the very notion of time may represent a com- 
ponent of the bundle of spiritual properties that distinguished the first humans from 
their animal environment. In fact, such a feature of human behavior as burial of 
the dead, which first occurred at least 100,000 ago, bears out the perception of the 
flow of time; here, of course, it assumes a rather prosaic form of protective 
measures taken against the decomposition of a human corpse that falls prey to the 
elements which take their share in the appropriation of material constituents of 
the dead body as time passes. Let us, however, notice that at least as early as the 
ninth-eighth millennium B.C.E., the plastered skulls of the aceramic Neolithic sites 
of the Near East first bear out a belief in an immaterial, and hence eternal, com- 
ponent of human nature, outlasting the bonds of physical existence of particular 
humans. Indications consistent with such a situation may even reach as far back as 
the Natufian culture (Bar-Yosef 1997:209, 211-212 with ref.). Nevertheless, while 
each civilization takes account of the essentials represented by the regular sequence 
of days, nights, and seasons of the year, the manner in which it includes time in the 
contexts of spiritual reflection on its world can constitute a telltale testimony of its 
scales and ladders of values. These values structure both the internal life of bearers 
of the respective civilizations and the unfolding of major events of public charac- 
ter, deemed to encode the "proper," "civilized" way of life and therefore constitut- 
ing an "outer shell" of social life of every civilization of the world (on time in various 
cultures of the world cf. especially Gell 1992). 


While the ideas sketched above are likely to arouse no contradictions or objec- 
tions, we do encounter some difficulty in the decoding of the perception of time 
and temporality in early civilizations, especially those which thrived in the very 
distant past. Difficulties also arise in translating the testimony of historical evidence 
into terms and notions characterizing our own vision of any particular historical 
period. We all somehow realize, or tacitly assume, that we can understand ancient 
people because we are human beings just like them. This idea, first proposed at the 
beginning of the 1 8th century by the Italian scholar Giambattista Vico, has since 
gained ground. In fact, Jean Piaget, a French developmental psychologist investi- 
gating the development of abstract values in children, has demonstrated that there 
seems to exist a universal, pan-human mode of perception of time, similar to that 
of colors (on this Gell 1992:97-117, 132-145). What, however, might not be so 
evident is the idea that the employment of singular mental tools, by which human 
beings grasp the world surrounding them, is determined by the overall context of 
a given period's mode of thinking. "Cultural time" is at least as important as "bio- 
logical time." Without a doubt we may assume that in the Middle Ages, those con- 
demned as heretics and sent to the execution pyre were as scared to die as we are 
today. Nevertheless, the idea of the possible perdition of their immortal souls, which 
they wholeheartedly embraced, was stronger than the individual and absolutely 
natural fear of death, and it inspired in them an attitude of ultimate intransigence. 
They simply could go no further in giving up their "erroneous" views and return- 
ing to orthodoxy without putting their souls into peril of eternal damnation, as all 
readers of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose certainly realize. 

It is exactly this kind of intellectual adventure that I wish to undertake here. 
Mine is an attempt at decoding a structured mode of thought in one of the world's 
earliest civilizations, that of the Sumerians living in the fourth and third millennia 
B.C.E. in Mesopotamia, a drainage area of the twin rivers Euphrates and Tigris, 
and at comparing it with the modern perception of time and temporality. What I 
am going to present is at best a nebulous and blurred vision of time as viewed by 
the ancients, of the relation between the temporal flow and the structure of the 
world as they perceived it. 

Measuring Time in Ancient Mesopotamia 

At least since the beginnings of their literacy in the late fourth millennium B.C.E., 
the Sumerians - whichever ethnic group or groups may be masked by this later 
ethnonym - were well aware of the individual segments of time (on the emergence 
of the Sumerian civilization cf. now Charvat 2002). The very first texts which they 
wrote in an early form of what is presently called the cuneiform script, best desig- 
nated as proto-cuneiform, contain the notions of day, month, and year (most 
recently Friberg 1999; cf. also Glassner 2000a: 179 [fig. 14], 283-284 [fig. l]).The 
authors of these earliest texts were thus aware of the basic dimensions of time, as 
well as of the essentials of the motions of the principal celestial bodies which deter- 


mine the seasons and thus also the year. We must nonetheless regrettably confess 
that we do not know whether these lexemes refer to actually measured segments of 
time or to abstract, "artificial" units created as a yardstick to approximate future 
sequences of vitally important events such as agricultural work or shepherding 
seasons. We may work with the assumption that the authors of the most ancient 
texts were familiar with the notions of days, months, and years. We would, however, 
be hard put to estimate how far they took pains to measure the time-unit lengths 
exactly or whether they worked with any abstract notions such as "man/woman- 
days," equal to pre-determined amounts of work. 

The Sumerians were apparently not very much interested in the higher measures 
of time (such as, for instance, the aeons of Greek mythology or the yugas of Indian 
time reckoning), or at least they did not refer to them in their written records. The 
three basic manners of dating historical events, used subsequently throughout the 
whole history of Mesopotamian civilization, emerged as early as the third millen- 
nium B.C.E. These were: 

1 The system of assigning an independent name to each past year and of refer- 
ring to the dates of historical events as happening in those named years, lists of 
which were presumably kept. This is, in fact, a very traditional manner of dating, 
examples of which may be found throughout the world and in diverse human 
societies. The bison skins with symbols for year names kept by the shamans of 
some native American tribes point this out clearly. 

2 Dating by measuring the temporal distance which has passed from a fixed point 
in time, usually from the enthronement of the ruling monarch, until the present. 
This system, which frequently gives the data in their barest possible form as 
numerals denoting the year, month, and day in which the recorded event took 
place, represents the form of dating later borrowed by the major religions of the 
world. It is most common even today, as is demonstrated by the various Anno 
Domini, Hijrah, or World- Creation datings. 

3 Dates that made reference to the service periods of public appointees who took 
their turns of office at regular intervals. Reference to their names could thus 
help to indicate the moment at which the event in question took place. Such 
office turns, designated in Sumerian by the term BALA and written by a sign 
depicting (in all probability) a spindle with the whorl that kept it rotating, were 
also appropriated by successor civilizations. This is illustrated in the Roman 
system of annual dating by reference to the names of consuls who held office 
in the relevant year. 

It goes without saying that all this would induce us to believe that the ancient 
Sumerians conceived time in much the same manner as we do. Such an assump- 
tion, however, would not be quite correct. In many aspects the Sumerian percep- 
tion of time differed from ours, and that seems to have been the case from the 
beginning of their civilization onwards. 


What Kind ofTime? 

The first, and rather considerable, difference pertained to the very notion of time 
itself. This term simply did not exist as such in the Sumerian language, though 
expressions denoting its various components and segments existed from the begin- 
ning of cuneiform (Wilcke 1982:33; Selz 1999:511). 

The Sumerians also saw time as a component of a wider system, embedded in 
structures of spatiotemporal extension. Robert Englund has noticed that in the 
proto-cuneiform script of the late fourth millennium B.C.E., identical graphemes 
are used for the periods of day and directions of the wind, the latter most proba- 
bly indicating the cardinal points (Englund 1988:165-166, from the Uruk Plant 
List) . This probably wove time into a wider and more universal system in which it 
did not function independently but constituted one of the properties of a complex 
universe. In classic Chinese thought, for instance, time represented but a function 
of space and of the never-ending vegetational cycle with its proliferation and hiber- 
nation phases. Winter was equivalent to the north, the color black, the element 
water, and the supremacy of the major female principle (yiri); spring was homony- 
mous with the east, the color blue-green, the element wood, and the supremacy of 
the minor female principle, and so on. 

Later on, the idea of the world as a fourfold spatiotemporal structure, from which 
the sun was supposed to depart and to which it returned through heavenly gates 
guarded by mythical doorkeepers stationed there (bison men and scorpion men), 
is clearly perceptible in Mesopotamian cuneiform texts (Huxley 2000). This 
enmeshing of time within a wider network of structural relationships might have 
resulted in profound social consequences: one of the commonly acknowledged 
functions of the early elites, of considerable importance for the proper functioning 
of the natural and societal bonds, might have been seen in "starting-off" the motion 
of the world. This happened in early China where the king had to determine the 
beginning of the calendar, the first day of the first month, by personally proceed- 
ing from one section of his Calendar house (Ming-T'ang) to another (Ching 
1997:37), but it also occurred in a number of non-state societies (e.g., Gell 

Such a wider notion of time, seen as a substance which, though integrated into 
the terrestrial universe as an organized whole, can crop up in many particularities 
of human interaction with the world, opened the way towards characterizations of 
temporal entities which may seem surprising to us. The perception of time as a 
function of space, coupled with the personally experienced sequence of natural fer- 
tility cycles built into the agropastoral enterprise, gave birth to such ideas as the 
"plenty" or "fullness" of time, expressed most clearly in the measurement of tem- 
poral segments by means of hollow measures (Selz 1999:471). But the ancients 
expressed themselves sometimes even more clearly: in the "Lamentation over the 
Destruction of Ur," Enlil, the divine father of Ur's own god Nanna, gives his son 
a hardly encouraging answer when Nanna comes to him to plead for the fate- 
stricken people of Ur: "Who has ever seen a kingdom which outlasted the time 
measured out to it? As to its [Ur's] kingdom, its regnal period is filled up" (Wilcke 


1982:41). This general idea has been carried up to the present time especially by 
the text of the Bible. In its temporal determinations, in particular in the expecta- 
tions of the moment of the end of the world, this notion of time figures promi- 
nently, most clearly in eschatological parts such as the Revelation (Rev. XV: 15: 
"Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest 
of the earth is ripe."). The connection, of course, is neither a word-for-word nor a 
literal one, but the linking of the idea of time with the notion of fullness or ripeness, 
alluding clearly to vegetational symbolism, is there just the same. 

As with most ancient civilizations, one would be tempted to assume almost auto- 
matically that the Sumerians lived with a cyclical notion of time. The reality is some- 
what more complex. On the one hand, Claus Wilcke has convincingly demonstrated 
that the Sumerian word for "back of the body" is the same as that used for "the 
future" (EGER; Wilcke 1982:31). This shows that the cyclical or rather circular 
notion of time, enclosing the human bondage into one gigantic trajectory which is 
closed and along which things material and immaterial move in an eternally fixed 
circular course, was not alien to the ancient Sumerians. The slogan "back to the 
future" would clearly be comprehensible to them. On the other hand, inhabitants 
of ancient Mesopotamia did recognize an initial point in time at which civilization 
began. This is clearly indicated by the famous dictum of Uruinimgina's inscription, 
referring to the earliest possible time marker as to a time of NUMUN.E.A.TA, that 
is, "from the time when the seed sprouted forth" (Wilcke 1982:32). Though this 
could well be understood as a recurring event, it nonetheless implies an idea of a 
starting point fixed somewhere in the mythical past. Variants, of which the last one 
named here is most interesting for archaeology, do refer to the beginning of all 
things as the day "on which fates were decreed (UD.NAM.TAR.RA)" and even 
"on which the population was settled (UD.UL UN KI.GAR.RA)" (Wilcke 
1982:32). A just measure of prudence is obviously in place here, as it transpires 
that both the notion of cyclical time and that of linear time might have been, at 
least in nuce, present in ancient Sumerian thought (also Selz 1999:467). 

"Our" Time and "Their" Time 

We need not unduly stress the considerable difference between this indigenous 
perception of Sumerian temporality and the present-day idea of time as a pure, 
crystalline, abstract current which swishes around our ears, being essentially inde- 
pendent of what we do, say, or think and defying all attempts at persuading it not 
to leave its traces on our material substance. We try to cheat time by jogging to keep 
our figures slim, by facelifting to conceal the dark spots and wrinkles, by makeup 
to pretend eternal youthfulness or by smoothly shaved faces to make septuagenar- 
ians look younger. We tend to imagine that somewhere in hoary antiquity, people 
were hardly more than crude barbarians who dressed in animal skins, ate raw meat, 
and drank blood still warm from the veins of the animals killed. We deem them low 
because they did not even know literacy, or, alternatively, the Immaterial Principle, 
Incarnate God, Prophet, or whatever it might have been right down to Adam 


Smith's Treatise on the Wealth of Nations. We love to envisage our predecessors 
advancing only slowly, at great pains, and with considerable expense (and, of course, 
listening to the proper advice administered by the only political and spiritual leaders 
worth listening to) up to the present happy time of civilization where time ends 
because no regime could be better than ours. All this represents, of course, hardly 
more than a thinly disguised notion of time prevalent in the major monotheistic 
religions of the world, well illustrated by Christianity. The Christian history of the 
path of salvation, beginning with God's creation of the world and passing through 
the stages of the creation of first human beings and the first fall, followed by the 
apparition of Jesus Christ, Crucifixion, and Resurrection and ending with the Last 
Judgment and establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, was taken over by 
the Enlightenment philosophers. They merely substituted the stages of "darkness," 
in which humankind lived before the introduction of 18th-century ideals, for the 
preceding idea of the times of "ignorance" of the major religions, and the illustri- 
ous and informed present for the time of victory of any of the major religions - 
some even for God's kingdom on earth. This is well discernible in archaeological 
thought with Gordon Childe's proposal of the Neolithic revolution, representing a 
sort of revelation of what was subsequently to become a bundle of the major civi- 
lization trends. Ever since the days of this great Australian-born archaeologist, his 
colleagues have perceived the time of Mesopotamian civilization as a linear "long- 
distance run" for more and more perfection, beginning somewhere in the dark times 
of "savagery" (cf. the following citation) and ending in the blessed sunlit days of 
the food-producing economy, or state and literate civilization, or the world's first 
empire, or the world's first multinational and multicultural state (for a beautiful 
example of this mode of thinking cf. the introduction to Braidwood and Howe 
1960:1-9, as well as their discussion on pp. 175-176). 

At present, it is, of course, easy to criticize views that held an enormous 
importance in their days. Without any doubt, our scholarly predecessors, to whom 
we owe much, paved the way towards the accessibility of the enormous amount 
of evidence at our disposal, with the aid of which we are now realizing that things 
are not so simple. Nevertheless, we only begin to comprehend today how difficult 
it is to reconcile this vision of ours with the views and opinions taken by the 

Sumerians, Scholars, and Stochastic Events 

It goes without saying that modern studies focusing on the long-term factors of 
Mesopotamian history have not failed to appear. One of the most inspiring ones 
appeared fairly early but is not cited too frequently up to the present time. This is 
Gibson's (1974) study on the impact of various irrigation strategies on the economy 
of ancient Mesopotamia. The author calls to our attention the fact that in the long 
run of Mesopotamian civilizations, there are certain limits which should not be 
transgressed, lest all Mesopotamian communities pay a heavy fine. Specifically, in 
order to make Mesopotamian agriculture productive, local populations had to let 


at least one half of the available soil lie fallow, an historically constant feature of 
which people of the time were undoubtedly aware. This, of course, must have been 
one of the components of their environment which was likely to have contributed 
to their conviction that there are certain things which not even time will over- 
come, constant features of the landscapes and life-style of the riverine plains of 
Mesopotamia belonging to the fate of the land decreed forever by the gods. The 
lure of bigger agricultural yields, which might have pushed the major empires of 
Mesopotamian history towards violation of this golden rule and which ended up in 
a disastrous salinization of large tracts of once fertile soil, might then very well have 
been seen by the rural communities as an outrage committed by the emperors 
defying the commands of the gods, demons, and spirits, eternal proprietors of the 
arable soil, an outrage that had immediate and drastic consequences not only for 
the leaders, but for their whole communities. 

An interesting step has been taken by Jean-Daniel Forest in his last major trea- 
tise on the origins of the Mesopotamian state (Forest 1996, and this volume). Much 
as Gibson in the context of natural qualities of the Mesopotamian environment, 
Forest has based his analysis of the rural communities of prehistoric Mesopotamia 
on an explicit ethnographic model, formulated by the eminent French ethnologist 
and connoisseur of matters African, Claude Meillasoux - that of the Household- 
based Agricultural Community (Communaute Domestique Agricole, or CDA: 
Forest 1996:esp. 21-22, 27, 51-52, 90-91, and 113-114). Defined as a produc- 
tion-consumption unit based on blood kinship, sharecropping, domestic redistrib- 
ution, and neighborly aid, the CDA is assumed to have existed in two modes. The 
segmentary one, represented by the Halaf culture, resulted in an unlimited fission- 
ing and propagation of its member communities all over the accessible landscapes 
which displayed certain geographic properties favorable for human settlement of 
the past age. The integrated one, incarnated by the sedentary Neolithic cultures of 
southern Mesopotamia as exemplified by Tell el Oueili, offered, as an alternative 
source-procurement strategy, intense exploitation of resources available in abun- 
dance in certain geographic niches, allowing human settlements to be "perma- 
nently" fixed in time and space. The northern variant of Ubaid culture is perceived 
here as a successful "export" of the integrated CDA northwards, where it is sug- 
gested to have given birth to a secondary form of integrated CDA with chiefdoms, 
exemplified by the site of Tepe Gawra. 

This is again a procedure which must be welcomed as it points out that there 
are certain societies which oscillate around a well-balanced state of relationships 
aimed both outside, towards their natural environment, and inside, in the direction 
of sets of rules governing people's social behavior. In Africa, where the natural abun- 
dance offered by nature to human populations dispenses with the necessity of build- 
ing too complex and too permanent social networks, such communities may make 
students of these societies believe that they have not changed from time immem- 
orial. Now this is exactly the heart of the problem when we apply an ethnological 
model to our primarily archaeological data. Regardless of the difference in natural 
environment, I believe it would be somewhat difficult to demonstrate that the CDA 
really does possess characteristics which are constant over long periods of time and 


is not, for example, the result of a set of simplification processes which have been 
going on for a considerable but measurable period of time. Take, for instance, early 
medieval Western Europe but also Byzantium, which carried on the sophisticated 
cultural tradition of Classical Antiquity. A student pursuing the medieval develop- 
ment of this culture would be tempted to assume that nothing changed as the cen- 
turies and millennia passed. The culture, however, persisted in an economic and 
social context utterly different from the environment in which Greek and Roman 
cultures had reached their greatest floruits. Furthermore, is the CDA model suffi- 
ciently broad to accommodate the range of possible social organizations to be 
expected in the past, and especially in the more distant past? How deep must be 
the source critique which would assess the fruitfulness of its application in various 
historical contexts - would it be permissible, for instance, to use the CDA model 
for sedentary communities of food-gatherers, such as, for instance, the tribes of the 
American Northwest Coast? 

But the matter does not, in fact, rest there. Ethnographic models, however useful 
they may be in visualizing various trajectories which the lives of the people in the 
past might have taken, offer only very rarely unequivocal clues implying positive, 
tangible, and verifiable evidence on the history of the respective human communi- 
ties. This is not a problem for Jean-Daniel Forest only - all of us who try to lean 
on ethnographic evidence in hopes of at least visualizing, if not recreating the past, 
must necessarily take the customary path of source critique which frequently leaves 
very little in place to go by (Verhoeven, this volume). Resorting to a model in an 
historical interpretation of any given society should entail, whenever possible, a 
close scrutiny of the model with the purpose of determining which parts represent 
long-term constituents (perhaps on the scale of Fernand Braudel's longue duree) and 
which parts tend to be changeable or transient over shorter time segments. The two 
paths divide in front of us, with one leading invariably to the assembly of con- 
structions which, though frequently appealing and elegant, may nonetheless col- 
lapse on the first contact with reality. The other leads into the maze of Boasian 
factography which may be difficult, if not impossible to disentangle and master. It 
is, however, all the more important that we keep addressing questions of a wider 
order to those civilizations which do possess a very long record of written infor- 
mation, such as the Mesopotamian one. These questions may have a significant 
bearing on our understanding of other ancient cultures. 

Some of the most intriguing conclusions concerning the relationship of ancient 
Mesopotamians to time have been put forward recently by two scholars, Jean- 
Jacques Glassner (1993; 2000b) and Gebhard Selz (1999). Having investigated 
questions concerning the Sumerian King List (SKL), Glassner has convincingly 
demonstrated that this is one of the documents in which the Mesopotamian com- 
prehension of time comes out most clearly. His is a firm conviction, very relevant 
in our context, that not only the SKL but Mesopotamian civilization in general 
shows evidence for both circular and linear time (Glassner 1993:24-26). Glassner 
outlines the basic Sumerian unit of calculable time, a "round" or "shift," as he 
explains the Sumerian word BALA, which I have already mentioned. He demon- 
strates that it was conceived as a minor cycle of work done, or task fulfilled: a certain 


amount of time needed to finish a given piece of labor, issuing out of a balanced 
state and leading again towards another balanced but different state of things 
(Glassner 1993:80-81; Glassner 2000b:192-195). Glassner points out that the 
notion fits perfectly the grapheme by which it is referred to in the script, an image 
of a spindle with its whorl. He points to the fact that within a given time segment 
a spindle would rotate, doing a certain amount of work and bringing about a small 
but perceptible change in the previous state of things (Glassner 2000b: 193). This, 
as he argues, is precisely the idea which is behind the perception of history in the 
SKL as a series of "revolutions" (in the Elizabethan-England sense, where the word 
meant a tour of the royal domain by the suzerain), bringing to the foremost posi- 
tion among the Sumerian cities only the four kingships - Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Akkad 
- in shifting order and with short-term irregularities. 

An Interlude: Sumerian Kingship and Time 

Uruk occupied a position of honor, though it had no king (LUGAL), it did possess 
a time-honored EN (pontifical-cum-temporal-direction) office, at least from the last 
centuries of the fourth millennium B.C.E. It can be argued that the Uruk pontifi- 
cal couple, EN (male) and NIN (female), played a key social role in the perfor- 
mance of the NA 2 ceremony, probably an early variant of the "sacred marriage" 
act. This served as an instrument to release natural fertility, conferred upon the 
earth and living beings by the gods, sole masters of it (Charvat 1997:esp. 10-12). 

In fact, the choice of the candidate cities for the topmost positions in Sumerian 
society appears also to have been substantially conditioned by time. While the posi- 
tion of Uruk was quite unique - as the Sumerian elites were clearly aware - the 
LUGAL title, borne by the Kish and Ur suzerains, shows that both cities were old 
enough to have begun their politically central roles at the beginning of the Early 
Dynastic period (soon after 3000 B.C.E.) when the social prestige of the LUGAL 
title first prevailed over that of EN (cf. Charvat 1997:esp. 41-81). How did this 
happen? In Ur (and Kish?), a problem might have arisen out of the fact that the 
local EN dignitaries were women. Having been married to divinities, they had no 
earthly husbands upon whom they could have conferred the right to the highest 
office of the state. Under such circumstances, the crucial social roles devolved upon 
the individual NINs who took as husbands LUGALs, made the latter rise to the 
status of highest dignitaries of their respective communities, and, as time went by, 
that of true "kings." I assume that much as in an overwhelming majority of prein- 
dustrial societies, Sumerian women usually did not assume high office, but could 
confer the right to hold it on their consorts. 

The communities ruled by ENSIs betray their political birth in the advanced 
Early Dynastic age (27th-26th centuries B.C.E.) when this title was introduced by 
the administrators of the Shuruppak polity, which may perhaps have represented 
an agency of the Kish kingdom. These communities were perceived by the author(s) 
of the SKL as relative newcomers who had no right to appropriate any leading posi- 
tion vis-a-vis the "historical sequence" of Mesopotamian kingship. 


Nevertheless, the whole sequence of shifts of government clearly assumed a uni- 
lineal temporal direction, as is indicated by the fact that in the eyes of the author 
of the SKL there was always and invariably only one supreme city-state within all 
Sumer. This is aptly expressed by Jean-Jacques Glassner in his denomination of 
the Sumerian kingship as "monarchie une" (= "Monarchy One," cf. also Glassner 
1993:87). The analysis of the SKL thus led him to show with remarkable clarity 
the complex character of Sumerian comprehension of time, at once both cyclical 
and linear. 

Sumerians, Scholars and Stochastic Events Again 

To these comments Gebhard Selz has added still other, most pertinent observa- 
tions. Elaborating upon the observations of both Wilcke (cf. supra) and Glassner, 
he made two very important remarks. First and foremost, he has formulated 
what may be termed the "substantial core" and the "accidental periphery" of the 
Sumerian notion of time (Selz 1999:467). This seems to have been expressed by 
dating formulae of Akkadian-language legal texts from Old Babylonian Susa, which 
Glassner (2000b:201) translates from the original as "for continuity and change, 
for posterity." For Selz, the Sumerians were convinced that anything that is well- 
established and lasts for a considerable period of time has been sanctioned by usage 
and, in the eyes of the ancients, has acquired a quasi-permanent, "eternal" charac- 
ter, similar to the "substantia" of medieval Scholastic philosophy (Selz 1999:508). 
In fact, this idea sounds congenial to any archaeologist who, asking the question of 
how long the Sumerians preserved monuments of their ancestors, realizes that a 
number of Sumerian temples housed remains that might have stood in their sanc- 
tuaries for centuries, if not millennia (Wilcke 1982:37-41). What shows instability 
is apt to change and is transient, elusive, volatile, unreliable, and potentially danger- 
ous ("accidentiae"), though the visible reality surrounding us is invariably com- 
posed of both these entities. Selz has thus outlined for us the very important 
distinction between stabilized features of both the natural and human environment, 
tending to be perceived by the ancient Sumerians as permanent and "eternal," and 
changeable and impermanent things that constitute an outer "interface" at which 
the mythically and eternally conceived "pure" substance of time interferes with 
other entities of both the visible and the invisible world. 

A perfect example of this is the effort of Nabonidus, the last Neo-Babylonian 
king, to find the earliest possible ancestors to the series of cultic buildings he 
rebuilt at various sacred places. The conscious and deliberate effort to establish 
cultic structures that would be as close as possible to the mythical prototypes, and 
therefore to the "eternal" models, led him to initiate truly "archaeological excava- 
tions," in the course of which he attempted to find the most ancient ground plan 
of any edifice occupying the site in question. Having identified such ancient build- 
ings, he directed his architects to build the new temple exactly on the ancient 
plan, with dimensions "neither a finger shorter, nor a finger longer" (Glassner 


The second and no less important conclusion put forward by Selz is that of the 
possibly artificial character of the Sumerian temporal records, at least from the 
earliest, proto-cuneiform phase of Mesopotamian culture (Selz 1999:472-476, 
487-506). He has rightly pointed to the fact that many of the earliest economic 
texts contain data that are "raw" in the sense that they are not calibrated with 
respect to any higher temporal entities. It thus cannot be excluded that these texts 
are related not to the past, where more exact determination of time might have 
been required, but rather to the future - in fact, that they represent "plans," assess- 
ments or evaluations of individual economic ventures for the days, months, and 
years to come. This accords very well with the hypothesis formulated by Glassner 
(2000a:esp. 161-215), according to which the introduction of writing represents a 
deliberate and well-prepared invention corresponding to the needs of a particular 
time period (cf. also numerous works by Nissen, e.g., 1995:95-100). I myself am 
also persuaded that the invention and introduction of writing is but the last piece 
of a creative effort of the Chalcolithic chiefly elites, who, having constructed a new 
mental image of the universe in which they presented themselves as masters of space 
and time, proceeded to build an entirely artificial world to their own taste and liking 
- a universe defined by the signs of writing. The possibility of a rather sophisticated 
handling of time in the ancient world is borne out by the fact that as late as Hel- 
lenistic times, the temporal data of the Ptolemaic astronomical canon were con- 
verted to Egyptian yearly count upon transfer from Babylon to Alexandria (Depuydt 
1995:esp. 106-115, cf. also Glassner 1993:130-131). 

Time Before Time Before Time Before Time . . . 

All this indicates that the Sumerian notion of time is a rather complex affair. Being 
an eternal cycle of ever-returning marker entities, it was also conceived as linear, 
having an overall direction in which it proceeded. Short of being envisaged as an 
independent force, it was embedded in a series of other coordinates of the visible 
world, most notably in space and in the disposition of its material components. To 
a certain extent, time was also a function of processes involving the discharge of 
natural fertility and represented thus a "living" affair. Time had a mythical, "eternal" 
interior of components that were unchanging and stabilized, and an outer shell or 
rather "atmosphere" of unstable and transitory phenomena which, though superfi- 
cial, did carry a certain amount of importance. This is borne out by the fact that 
at least from around the year 700 B.C.E., Babylonian astronomers took great pains 
to record with the utmost patience, night by night, details of the motions of the 
principal celestial bodies which must have represented just this kind of superficial 
and changeable evidence (Depuydt 1995). 

It does seem that once the Sumerian notion of time had become well-established, 
there was hardly anything to replace it in the minds of the successor populations 
of Babylonians and Assyrians. We can, then, at least attempt to question when the 
essential ideational concepts behind the Mesopotamian perception of time began 
to emerge. 


Alwo von Wickede (1986) has with great skill investigated the structural princi- 
ples guiding the decoration of Mesopotamian prehistoric pottery, and we can use 
the categories which he has outlined to attempt a glimpse of the notions and con- 
cepts used by the inhabitants of the plains and submontane areas of what was to 
become Babylonia and Assyria. This procedure is based on the idea that in prelit- 
erate societies, eating is considered a most important activity. By eating human 
beings assimilate and appropriate substances of the outer world which have been 
tamed, humanized, and hence rendered harmless by the processing of the food in 
question. Patterns on eating vessels will then tend to represent basic positive values 
of the society in question, entering those who ingest the food or producing in them 
a desirable state of affairs. A case in point is the Melanesian kava ceremony in which 
the kava-drinking chief identifies himself with ancestors, thereby guaranteeing the 
desirable social order at the moment of partaking of the potion (on this in general 
cf. especially Levi-Strauss 1969). 

Bearers of the Hassuna and Samarra cultures decorated their products with 
patterns displaying rotation as the most characteristic principle (von Wickede 
1986:32). This seems to follow out of the prehistoric principle that within a world 
that is non-humanized and both potentially and actually hostile, only the point 
where human settlement is established represents a safe abode, a lynch-pin from 
which human civilization must be suspended and on which it can be anchored, and 
which constitutes a reference point for all human activities within its radius. 

Representatives of the Halaf culture advanced further in the sense that theirs was 
a world of axial symmetry (von Wickede 1986:32). Here prevails the vision of seden- 
tary human populations, acknowledging a hierarchically ordered world centered, as 
before, on human settlements but, unlike in Neolithic times, perceiving them as 
embedded in concentric tracts of humanized landscapes, beyond the frontiers of 
which extended the wild, and therefore "in-human" and potentially dangerous land- 
scapes. Thanks to studies by Andre Leroi-Gourhan, we know that while the per- 
ception of the world in nomadic societies knows only one certainty - the human 
encampment - nomads tend to see the rest of the world as a loose series of envi- 
ronments in no logical relation to one another, existing in a more or less haphaz- 
ard manner and not tied to any unifying structures. Such traits of human thought 
as the notions of center and periphery emerge only within the systems proper to 
sedentary societies. Such creations of Halaf-culture potters as bowls or plates 
bearing concentric flower- or rosette-like ornaments surrounded by concentric 
bands of chequered patterns (von Wickede 1986:20, Abb. 17) may well visualize a 
notion of a "civilized" quadripartite world inclosed in a large circle of ever-flowing 

What, however, was a truly fundamental invention was undoubtedly the cylin- 
der seal, invented and introduced perhaps some time during the Middle Uruk 
period. In addition to its technological advantages, the cylinder seal represents a 
nearly perfect materialization of the Sumerian perception of the spatiotemporal 
structure of the world. The matching is so conspicuous that we may be tempted to 
see in this construct of the immediately pre-state age a "major leap," when a whole 
bundle of changes transformed, at a relatively rapid pace, essentials of the mental 


apparatus used by humans over a very long period of time, reaching perhaps as far 
back as the beginnings of Neolithic (in terms of Fernand Braudel's longue duree). 
Having the faculty of being endlessly rolled along a wet and pliable surface, it rep- 
resents symbolically, but also quite realistically, the circularity of time. Being capable 
of producing an infinite linear arrangement of images, it stands for the linearity of 
time. Being endowed with the capacity to impress images in the wet clay or any soft 
matter, and thus create a new form of materiality, it may not only function within 
a coordinate system of a different order than time, such as that of space, but it can 
actively create reality. At this stage of development of the human mind, practical 
operations involving the human environment tend to be performed both in actual 
fact and "magically," (also) by means of images; one approach is a prerequisite of 
the other. And, indeed, in view of the fact that cylinder seals were used to close 
deliveries of agricultural surplus to the elites, their impressions also "produced 
plenty," and the seals were, in a certain sense, correlates of the cycles of natural 

In fact, there is hardly anything to add after this exposition of the Sumerian 
notion of time as incarnated in the cylinder seal. This symbolic-cum-functional arti- 
fact must have represented a powerful tool with the aid of which prehistoric elites 
convinced their followers that they were capable of creating a new world order. What 
came after was just a repetition of the original creative act, a solidification and clar- 
ification of a notion which had existed ever since the beginning of Sumerian civi- 
lization. No wonder that modern scholars are fascinated by the Eigenbegrifflichkeit 
of Mesopotamian culture (cf., for instance, Selz 1999:51 1-512). They invariably 
observe that nearly all creative acts were already performed by the anonymous 
members of late-fourth-millennium elites. Trapped in the results of the enormous 
spiritual effort of their ancestors, the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians con- 
tented themselves with the conservation of the cultural heritage which they took 
over from them. There was only one way to bring more perfection to a system of 
this kind: to abandon it altogether and to build something radically different. That, 
however, had to wait for the Hellenistic times. 


In fact, this attempt to uncover the perception of time in one of humankind's ear- 
liest literate civilizations has raised more questions than it has answered. The Sume- 
rians apparently had a peculiar manner of conceiving and handling time, a manner 
appropriate to them which has to be understood in its own right. This mental tool 
was sufficiently sophisticated to delineate both "eternal" (long-term) components 
of ancient Mesopotamian civilization and to accommodate the changes brought 
forth by the variety of common, everyday situations. It enabled Mesopotamian elites 
to create a basic spatiotemporal context for their society in which life was worth 
living, both for elite members and for the population strata whom they served and 
by whom they were served. Chance has offered us the possibility to witness the 
emergence of this basic concept of time in its material incarnation (the cylinder 


seal) in the Middle Uruk period, at a moment just preceding the creation of one 
of the world's first literate civilizations. The rotation of the cylinder seal stands for 
circular/cyclical time; the linear extension of the image impressed by the seal rep- 
resents a linear orientation, the "vector" of time. The cylinder seal's faculty of 
making an impression in a malleable surface stood for the basic unity of time and 
space; and the fact that supplies marked by the cylinder seals brought plenty to elite 
households indicated the filling capacity, or "fruition" of time. How far this per- 
ception of time reflected notions developed in the preceding, prehistoric age, or 
how far it represented a deep-reaching transformation of the mental apparatus of 
bearers of Mesopotamian civilization, must be determined by future research. 


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Reliquaries on the 
Landscape: Mounds as 
Matrices of Human 


Sharon R. Steadman 

Across most of the Middle East, as well as parts of central Asia and southeastern 
Europe, human-made mounds dot the landscape. These have resulted from count- 
less generations of individuals carrying out everyday activities in exactly the same 
place as their ancestors did hundreds or thousands of years before. What prompted 
the peoples of this Middle Eastern landscape to form such an attachment to place 
that they return again and again, finally to permanently occupy that exact place} 
This prehistoric and early historic behavior eventually produced a terrain inter- 
spersed with testaments to a human tenacity in residential choice. 

At the outset this contribution focuses on explanations that can be labeled 
"functional" or "rational." Such explanations have formed the mainstay of settle- 
ment archaeology for decades, and should always serve as basic linchpins for under- 
standing human settlement patterns. However, there is more to the human 
behavioral construct than simple reaction to practical needs. Whether choosing a 
name for a newborn daughter, deciding on a location for residence, or following 
ritual practice in the treatment of deceased relatives, humans make choices 
based on an intricate web of beliefs, perspectives, and worldviews that guide them 
toward certain behaviors. It is these webs of meaning that form the basis of the 
majority of discussion in this study. In particular, attention will be paid to humans' 
perceptions of the landscape and how such cognitions led to the formation of 
Middle Eastern mounds. Beyond just human-made marks on a natural landscape, 
mounds serve as matrices of meaning in their role as reliquaries of prehistoric 



Figure 14.1 A Turkish village on the Anatolian Plateau (author's original) 

The Middle Eastern Landscape 

Across the vast Middle Eastern landscapes are kilometers of agricultural fields or 
grazing lands, broken only by the occasional village, town, or encampment (figure 
14.1). Many of these rise above the landscape, the material result of human 
processes of production, consumption, and deposition. This is not to say, however, 
that all these settlements are inhabited today. Many stand as tenantless memorials 
to the countless individuals who lived, loved, and died on these places hundreds 
and thousands of years ago. These silent sentries of the past carry names such as 
"hoyiik," "tepe," "tell," and "chogha," but all can be translated to mean "human- 
made mounds." 

It is these mounds of human-produced detritus which have, in large part, inspired 
archaeological exploration of the Middle East, from Layard (Lloyd 1980:87-92), 
to Kenyon (1985:14-15), to the far less famous, but no less enthusiastic, present 
author. My first thought upon seeing £adir Hoyiik (the site where I've worked over 
the last decade) was that the mound was breathtakingly beautiful (figure 14.2). One 
must wonder whether it is the physicality of the actual mound that inspires an 
archaeologist's thoughts of beauty, or perhaps more likely, the knowledge that 
secrets about past lives lie within the layers. The desire to excavate, to reveal, and 
to finally understand those successive habitations recorded in the stratigraphy of 
the mound is nearly irresistible. Fortunately, many have not resisted, and thus the 
history and prehistory of the Middle East have been laid out before us. 



Figure 14.2 £adir Hoyiik, the author's excavation site, central Turkey (author's original) 

But what is it about the Middle Eastern landscape that makes it worthy of 
consideration, indeed worthy of an entire chapter in this volume? The topography 
and climate are varied; depending on the region described, adjectives ranging 
from "lush" to "spare" to "desolate" can be applied. It is not, however, just the 
environmental characteristics that are of interest, but the nature of the settlements 
themselves. There is a fundamental difference between agricultural towns in the 
Western world, particularly those found in North America and parts of Western 
Europe, and those in the Middle East. Most simply put, one can distinguish 
between "dispersed" settlements such as those found across the mid-western United 
States, and "nucleated" settlements in the Middle East. 

In general, the North American small-scale farmer lives on his land. His farm- 
house rests alongside the barn, silos, stock holding-pens, chicken coops, and fields. 
The family pick-up is used to travel into town for supplies. The point is that those 
engaged in a farming or herding lifestyle in large areas of the Western world live in 
dispersed settlements, inhabiting the actual land they work, alongside the animals 
they husband. A brief look at most villages and towns in western Asia will find the 
opposite. Farmers travel from town to their fields via four-wheeled or four-legged 
transport. Settlements are nucleated; residents live side-by-side and fields surround 
the settlement but lie open, without built structure (see figure 14.1). The narrow 
alleyways separating houses, the twisting town streets, the deeply furrowed path- 
ways leading to the village springs and gathering places, all testify to the antiquity 
of such nucleated settlements. 


The existence of such settlements, nucleated, crowded, persistent as to place, 
and the subsequent emergence of human-produced habitus rising above the natural 
landscape, leads to numerous questions. First and foremost: what led to the choice 
of that spot for habitation? Also of curiosity is: why stay there? Finally, one is moved 
to ask: why live in crowded (sloping?) towns on ever higher localities, rather than 
down "on the ground" nearer fields and grazing lands? This, of course, is not the 
first time such questions have been asked of archaeological settings. There is a rich 
literature on the origins of sedentary settlement, settlement choice, and the growth 
of cities (Chang 1968; Kostof 1991; Fletcher 1995). There is no need to recount 
the excellent ideas of these scholars here. Rather, the aim is to lead the researcher 
to view the Middle Eastern landscape with an eye toward two alternative (although 
not necessarily mutually exclusive) conceptual frameworks: the functional and 
rational approach, and the cognitive and symbolic approach. The former is an essen- 
tial component to any study of land use in the ancient or present-day world. The 
latter is, admittedly, a more unconventional direction of inquiry, but one which may, 
in the end, be even more productive. Indeed, some suggest that to seek a rational 
and functional explanation for something that, in their opinion, is born entirely of 
symbolic patterns reflective of myth, ritual, and cultural consciousness (Rykwert 
1976; Cosgrove 1995) is near to folly. However, folly would also plague an approach 
to landscape studies devoid of rationality. 

Functional Landscapes: Rational Choices for "Place" 

There has been no lack of archaeological research on the subject of why people 
settle in certain places. However, many research agendas seeking to explain settle- 
ment location have been unintentionally biased by underlying assumptions based 
on notions of "practicality" and "rationality" from a modern Western perspective. 
In other words, much of early modern Western settlement and residential choice 
has employed a selection process anchored in criteria such as land quality and 
natural resources, access to goods, and safety. These are certainly rational and 
logical questions to consider when deciding where to make a permanent home. An 
added bonus is that such models are testable archaeologically, using a variety of 
standard and scientific techniques. 

These are entirely valid avenues of investigation into settlement choice issues. In 
fact, the archaeologist who did not at least ponder the physical and social landscape 
in which her settlement was located would likely be ignoring components crucial to 
building a complete culture history. People want to survive, and the choices they 
make about any number of things, including where to build a house, are heavily 
influenced by rational choices that aid in that struggle to survive. Whether those set- 
tling humans are transitioning from mobile foraging, migrating farmers rejecting 
their over-populated village, or city-dwellers looking for a simpler lifestyle, those 
humans will have certain requirements for their new home; of primary importance 
would be access to fresh water, wild plants and animals, and arable/grazing land, of 
considerable importance might be access to trade routes and a protected location. 
There are innumerable variables that would affect the hierarchical importance of 


these requirements, including the type of environment in question, the needs of the 
settlers, levels of competition for resources, socio-economic complexity, and so on. 
For instance, those founding new settlements on the British Isles would be more at 
liberty to choose locations close to natural resources such as flint and chalk (e.g., 
Field 1997), since fresh water and fertile land are not at a premium. In contrast, 
during the transition to sedentarism in the Levantine Natufian, hamlets were located 
at those relatively uncommon junctures of hill, mountain, and valley (providing a 
range of exploitable plant sources), while also providing easy access to river or stream 
(Henry 1989:48). Perhaps one of the best examples of hunter-gatherer settlement 
choice comes from the Syrian site of Abu Hureyra. Epipaleolithic residents settled 
next to abundant fresh water (the Euphrates River), amongst oaks, wild grasses and 
grains, berries and legumes, and were treated to an annual springtime migration of 
Persian Gazelle for their meat lockers (Moore et al. 2000:327-439). Without ques- 
tion, any analysis of settlement across the landscape must take into consideration the 
availability of natural resources that necessarily governed settlement choice. 

Social pressures must also enter into consideration of settlement location, 
depending on the politico-economic structures of the inhabitants in question. While 
access to natural resources will remain crucial, other factors such as defensibility, or 
easy proximity to long-distance trade routes may also affect settlement location 
choice. In illustration of the former one may simply look at the location of nearly 
any Maori pa settlement in pre-colonial New Zealand. The Maori people, known 
for their stellar abilities in warfare, were vitally concerned with protection of terri- 
torial lands and resources, and therefore prepared for attack and defense at any time 
(Davidson 1984). Their palisaded pa settlements were typically located on steep- 
sided hills, rocky promontories, or on any location that afforded them an adequate 
view of approaching intruders and limited outside access to their homes. Thus, 
warfare and defense figured heavily into settlement choice in the Maori settlement 
of the landscape. Similar constraints on settlement choice might be exerted by the 
desire for easy and immediate access to raw material resources important to trade 
routes (such as metal ores, obsidian, semi-precious stones, etc.). It would behoove 
any researcher to carefully consider the practical concerns such as political, eco- 
nomic, and social needs inherent in the decision-making process of choosing a 
settlement location. However, a functional and rational approach can, and often 
does, go hand in hand with symbolic considerations whenever humans engage in 
activities that serve to shape their daily lives. It is crucial to recognize that choices 
based on both expediency and ideation are powerful actors in the human settlement 
of the landscape. Thus, a researcher must venture into explanations that extend 
beyond a practical analysis of the landscape into the matrices of human cognition. 

Cognitive Landscapes: Mounds as Matrices 

The human-generated mounds decorating the Middle Eastern landscape demand 
an explanation from archaeologists. In the previous section the more functional, 
and admittedly more easily traceable, frameworks for interpretation were briefly 


addressed. However, such strategies can conceivably be considered "group strate- 
gies for survival," even "commonsensical approaches" to settlement location choice. 
The question arises as to whether there is something more to the doggedly persis- 
tent settlement of place than just access to resources and a constantly sought 
measure of safety. The picture feels incomplete. What in fact is missing are the emo- 
tional and psychological components of the living, breathing humans who occupied 
the space on these mounds. As residents began to connect with a "place," living, 
working, and raising their children on it, how did that place begin to figure into 
their routine, their beliefs, and their actions? More specifically, what did they think 
and feel about the entire space (the ground, their house, the surrounding land- 
scape)? What did it mean to them? Such questions are infinitely more difficult to 
answer, and consequently require more complicated, less "concrete," explanatory 
frameworks. However, such avenues of inquiry are filled with potential for under- 
standing the western Asian prehistoric and early historic landscape. 

The "landscape" as "built environment" 

There has been a significant amount of important investigation on how the build- 
ing of structures both shapes human behavior (e.g., Giddens 1984; Wilson 1988; 
Hodder 1990) and is a reflection of that behavior (e.g., Rapoport 1988; Kent 1990). 
What is sometimes left out of these equations is the landscape in which the built 
structure is situated. The archaeological inclination is to focus on the material 
remains of a domicile and the information about human behavior that can be 
derived from them. Symbolic meaning may be inferred from tool assemblages and 
their locations (Rapoport 1990), room layouts (Blanton 1994), or house structure 
(Waterson 1990). However, the location of that house or village in the overall land- 
scape is often absent from the explanation of the human behavioral and cognitive 
networks responsible for the construction of that "built environment." In all likeli- 
hood, the natural environment, i.e., the landscape, had a crucial influence on pre- 
historic inhabitants as they "built" their "environments." Indeed, the natural setting 
may be just as strongly "constructed" an environment as any stone or mudbrick 
home (Feld and Basso 1996; Zedeno 2000). 

The object here, then, will be to present models for understanding mounds of 
the Middle East from a "nested" perspective: human-constructed environments 
(houses) in significative and ideational places (mounds), set within the symbolic- 
cognitive natural environment (landscapes). By recognizing that humans live not 
just in their houses, but on the landscape that surrounds those houses, we may 
come even closer to understanding prehistoric human behavioral and cognitive 

Investigatory models 

The following discussion offers two approaches to how one might intertwine ma- 
terial data and ideational approaches to landscape interpretation. The first draws 


on Middle Eastern historical sources demonstrating the concept of "ownership of 
place" and its associated property. Extrapolating back in time, a concept of 
"connection to place" by individuals or within a lineage or kinship group may have 
induced preceding generations of early farmers to build and rebuild on ancestral 
land (thereby producing a mound). The second explores the concept of sacred 
spaces and how such power-filled localities may have influenced settlement patterns 
and longevity of place in Middle Eastern settings. Although presented as two 
distinct models and methodologies, aspects of kinship, ancestor, and sacred places 
may very well have been, and probably were, inextricably tied in the minds of 
the ancients. The two approaches offered here suggest only two of the many 
intertwined pathways a researcher might follow to understand the symbolically rich 

Kinship and ancestral lands 

What does it mean to "own" something? Most anthropologists can demonstrate 
that the Western concept of "ownership" is not a universal one. Egalitarian cultures 
such as the Penan of Borneo or the MButi of Africa have no sense of personal (indi- 
vidual) ownership of goods or places (Turnbull 1962; Davis et al. 1995), while other 
cultures, usually those practicing a subsistence-based farming and/or herding 
economy such as the Tsembaga of New Guinea and the Turkana of Kenya, con- 
sider ownership of goods and land to be clan or lineage-based, or of a more 
"corporate" nature (Ingold 1980; Johnson and Earle 1987; Earle 1991; Sanderson 
1999:88-94). Decisions regarding the disposition of kin-owned land are corporate 
in that everyone has a "vote" or at least a right to voice an opinion. Thus an under- 
lying principle of "ownership," or territoriality, exists in such cultures, but the notion 
of complete and utter control over the administration of land or material goods by 
an individual is absent. 

The Western perception of individual ownership of goods and land, at least as 
old as classical Greek civilization, became well-ensconced in Western thought 
through the medieval European land-tenure system (Landes 1999:29-38). 
However, the concept of private (individual) ownership of land and its association 
with the Western ideals of power and wealth are found in earlier and more Eastern 
contexts, calling into question the "Westernness" of this principle. Evidence of indi- 
vidual ownership of land (and goods) is found in textual remains from the towns 
and cities of the ancient Near East; such texts detail third and second millennium 
B.C.E. examples of the transmission of land through inheritance and sale from 
one private individual to another (Alster 1980; Morrison 1987:172-189; Stone 
1987; Haring 1998). Though the particulars of ownership were certainly culturally 
variable (and probably more loosely defined in comparison to the rigid regulations 
of present-day Western/U.S. private land ownership laws), the premise of individ- 
ual ownership stretches back in time as much as five millennia, which leads us 
to ask whether this might be an even more ancient concept in Middle Eastern 


Is it possible that a deeply felt ancestral relationship to a certain place on the 
earth might be at the root of Middle Eastern mounds? A kin group, clan, or even 
individual who established a relationship with a particular place, thus grounding 
identity and integral kin consciousness in that place, would pass such ideology down 
through the generations (see Chapman 1997 for similar views). In essence, a sense 
of "ownership" of that place would emerge so that succeeding generations would 
occupy, protect, and revere that locality. The connection between place and kin 
group would become so intertwined that the "space," which might include the 
earth, and that which is in it and on it, would essentially be inherited as the ances- 
tral home. Over the generations, which might stretch into centuries or millennia, 
that place would see the building and rebuilding of homes. These would grow and 
contract to accommodate the needs of those inhabiting them, and configurations 
would change as dictated by the "fashion" of the times. But the essential place would 
never alter. How does one document this in the archaeological record? The model 
requires a mixture of cross-cultural ethnographic review of mobile and settled 
peoples' attitudes toward "space," which then must be used to interpret extant 
Middle Eastern archaeological contexts. With such an approach, a "timeline" of 
kin-related ancestral connections to place, consequently producing mounds, can be 

Though areas such as southern Mesopotamia were first peopled by subsistence- 
based farmers and herders, the earliest inhabitants on much of the Middle 
Eastern landscape were mobile hunters and gatherers. Such residents offer artifac- 
tual and ecofactual remains that are minimal and transitory. Although much 
can be determined from hunter/gatherer lithic scatters and paleofaunal/floral 
remains (e.g., Hillman et al. 1989; Bar-Yosef 1991), such materials are hardly 
conducive to providing a framework for interpreting ancestral relationships to 

A researcher can turn to numerous examples of present-day hunter-gatherers 
who view the landscape with a sense of territoriality and kinship/ancestral inter- 
connections. Such group interrelationships with a region are found in Australian 
Aboriginal societies (Tilley 1994:37-54). Numerous studies recount the Australian 
Aboriginal "Dreaming Myths" (also known as "Dreamtime") that recount the 
origins of humans, kin/clan groups, and their totemistic ancestors as they either 
created, or were created from, the landscape (Fullagar and Head 1999; Layton 
1999). An excellent example of this is found in Jackson's study of the Walpiri in 
central Australia (1995). He cites numerous examples of a Walpiri pointing out a 
feature on the landscape that is intimately twined with his totem's deeds and thus 
his kin group's history (on this topic see also Smith 1999). In most cases the myths 
associated with the place are known, in their entirety, only to members of that 
totem's clan (Jackson 1995). Needless to say, such places are considered the embod- 
iment of the kin group, and members do not stray terribly far from their ancestral 
locations. If previous centuries had left Australia uncolonized, and the aboriginals 
had embarked upon a process of semi- or permanent settlement, would not kin 
groups claim sacred kin-centered landscapes as their "birthrights" with regard to 


Similar attitudes of familial relationship to the landscape can be found among 
the Ju'Hoansi of the African Kalahari Desert (Lee 1984:87-89). The idea of 
"ownership" amongst the Ju'Hoansi has more of a force of "belonging to" or being 
"identified with" a place (Wilson 1988:29). In fact, many mobile societies main- 
tain a sense of kin and place: the closer you are to the locality of the kin-based 
space, the closer your kinship ties with your relatives (Wilson 1988:32-41). Thus, 
if we extrapolate to the prehistoric past of the ancient Near East, the notion of 
mobility and yet connectivity to place is not so far-fetched, and is perhaps simply 
a given. Group mentality of kinship and territory, and even an ancestral (totemistic) 
relationship to a location can be conjectured. The next step is to trace this con- 
nectivity as groups began to visit, revisit, and eventually live upon "their" places. 

Without a written record, how can archaeologists possibly trace corporate (kin- 
based) territorial ownership in the earliest sedentary communities? Fortunately 
many researchers have undertaken these types of inquiries and have offered solid 
methodologies for tracing family-based cultural constructs. Ideally, the researcher 
must first ask how the kinship group is structured and how it expresses itself spa- 
tially. This path of inquiry can then be followed up with the investigation of kin- 
based ownership of place; i.e., the intricately woven relationship between family and 
the locality on which it has chosen to situate itself (for successful applications of 
such methodologies see Tilley 1996; Bradley 1998; Parker Pearson 1999; Porter 
2002). Offered here is only one possible explanatory framework for recognizing the 
presence of kin-based notions of ownership among mobile foragers turned village 
inhabitants. Attention is focused not on the structures that make up the built envi- 
ronment, but what residents placed inside, outside, and under them. 

A brief examination of mortuary ritual in the earliest (semi-) sedentary habita- 
tions of the Near East offers a glimpse into one possible version of the emergent 
family/land relationship as mobile peoples embarked on semi- or permanent settled 
life. Of particular interest here is the practice of "ancestor veneration" as expressed 
in "skull altars" inside homes, and subfloor burials. Such "house-floor burials" are 
common at early Neolithic sites in Iran and Iraq (Al-Soof 1968; Smith 1972), Abu 
Hureyra in Syria (Moore et al. 2000), sites in the Levant such as Jericho, 'Ain 
Ghazal, and Beidha (Kirkbride 1966; Cornwall 1981; Rollefson et al. 1992), and 
at Anatolian sites such as Catal Hoyiik and Mersin (Garstang 1953; Mellaart 1967; 
Hamilton 1996). Thus, burial under one's house floor, and to some extent, place- 
ment of skulls inside houses, can be viewed as fairly prevalent Near Eastern prac- 
tices. Accordingly, we can ask how such practices might reveal an ancestral 
relationship to the land. A focused examination of subfloor burials offers the 
suggestion that ancestral ideation is located in the land both symbolically and 

The literature on the meaning of "house-floor burials" is extensive, especially 
with regard to burial goods that accompany the interments. Grave goods are ideal 
indicators for a plethora of social behavioral patterns including social ranking, ter- 
ritoriality, and even ethnic subgroupings within a population (Henry 1989:202- 
210; Byrd 1994; and see Kuijt 2000a for discussion and literature review). Burial 
patterns are fairly consistent with regard to the interment; skeletal remains (some- 


times after defleshing) were buried in subfloor or subcourtyard contexts, usually in 
flexed positions. In addition to the burials themselves, scholarly interest has been 
piqued by specialized treatments of the skeletal remains or inclusions of anthropo- 
morphic plaster figurines in the burials or caches (see Kuijt and Chesson, this 
volume). In Anatolia, at the site of Catal Hoyuk, the skulls of some of the individ- 
uals in the subfloor group burials had been painted with red, green, or blue pig- 
ments (Mellaart 1967:206-208); examples of more spectacular treatments of 
skeletal remains, particularly skulls, come from sites across the Levant (see Cauvin 
1972 and Kuijt 2000b for discussion and examples). In these cases skulls are 
removed from the rest of the remains and either interred separately, often painted, 
or in an eerie prescience of modern forensic anthropology, modeled plaster was 
placed on the skull, in essence "remaking" the face of the deceased, with facial char- 
acteristics then applied with paint or shells (Kenyon 1985:38-39; Rollefson and 
Simmons 1987). In some cases skulls were then exhibited inside the house, on what 
might be termed pedestals, or even "altars" (see Kuijt 2000b for numerous exam- 
ples of skull treatments) . 

Explanation of these burial and skull treatments ranges from the placing of them 
as representative of a death cult or ancestor veneration (Kenyon 1985:34-38), or 
as ghost expulsion or evocation devices (Scurlock 1995), to their identification as 
representatives of gods and goddesses (Schmandt-Besserat 1998). While any of 
these might be equally plausible, most scholars interpret these ritual burials as 
indicative of ancestor veneration (but seeVerhoeven, this volume). Burial of the cor- 
poreal ancestral remains, treatment of skull, and burial of plaster statues (after, it 
might be conjectured, some ritual has imbued the statue with the essence/soul/iden- 
tity of the dead ancestor), were apparently chosen by these early settlers as proper 
methods of recognizing their descent from those who came before. The placement 
of these forbears under or in the abode cleaves their ancestral power and protec- 
tiveness to those continuing the line. But it also establishes the ancestral line in that 
place. Possession of that particular locality is established not only by the presence 
of the living, but the presence of the dead as well. It would be a very brave usurper, 
or more likely an ignorant non-resident, who would take such a place from the 
"rightful" owners and thus risk the wrath of the ancestral protectors of lineage and 

One of the most spectacular discoveries at 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan were caches 
of plaster figurines. These anthropomorphic statues, with painted faces, were 
made to stand on a platform or base (Rollefson 1986:45-47; Rollefson and 
Simmons 1987:43). Few would dispute the excavator's suggestion that these statues 
were representative of ritual-based activities; more specifically he suggests that 
"these two types of statues [some standing 90 cm high, some half that height] indi- 
cate a two-tiered religious hierarchy, one in which the larger statues fulfilled more 
important and most likely public functions, while the busts represent more specific, 
perhaps kin-related functions" (Rollefson and Simmons 1987:43). What is of par- 
ticular interest to the discussion here is that the excavator notes that these statues 
appear at a time of unanticipated agricultural abundance at 'Ain Ghazal. This early 
farming village was so successful in its agricultural production that the popula- 


tion began to expand tremendously, in part due to newly arrived settlers (Rollef- 
son and Simmons 1987:43-44). Is it possible, then, that the well-established inhab- 
itants felt it necessary to demonstrate possession of their portion of the landscape 
not just through the subfioor burial of ancestors, but with the above-ground phys- 
ical representation of those ancestors? As the population rose, and more settlers 
needed to establish residences, the desire to firmly embed the notion of "owner- 
ship of place," well-rooted in the veil of protectiveness exerted by the ancestors, 
may have resulted in rituals imbuing ancestral powers not just in the dead who 
rested beneath the floors, but in the symbolic representation of those ancestors in 
statuary stationed above the floor. Such powerful imagery would certainly cause a 
newcomer to think twice before trying to rout out a long-time resident, living or 

The concept of ancestral protectors of family land is commonly found in soci- 
eties that practice both sedentary and mobile lifestyles. Though more commonly 
associated with societies that feel pressure to protect lines of inheritance and main- 
tain societal divisions between kin-groups and power-structures, there is reason to 
believe that there exists a "universality of ancestor worship" among all cultures, past 
and present (Steadman et al. 1996). The conceptual approach to ancestor recog- 
nition is as diverse as the cultural spectrum; cultures such as the Wape of New 
Guinea rely on ancestors to protect kin-based hunting territories (Mitchell 1987), 
villages in Madagascar must maintain ancestral tombs in the village center or suffer 
the consequences, including human death and village destruction (Graeber 1998). 
In Near Eastern contexts, therefore, the placement of one's ancestor under the floor, 
whether skeletal remains or plaster representative, and ancestral altar with skull 
within the home, accomplishes two elements of action and effect: the burial iden- 
tifies the place as the property of the kin-group that occupies it, and the mainte- 
nance of the altar and burials ensures continued ancestral protection of place and 
descendants who rightfully inhabit that place (as long as the residents faithfully 
maintain their ritual obligations). 

As time carried on and generations of that kin group inhabited their place, the 
claim to a sacrosanct ownership of property would have become linked in the minds 
of all inhabitants. In essence, the identity of person would have become inextrica- 
bly bound with the locality of her place in the settlement or on the landscape. When 
such a strong tie is built between person and place, it is not surprising to see 
generations and centuries pass with a dogged persistence of stasis with regard to 
residential location - the lifeblood of mound formation. The concept of ownership, 
now deeply embedded in the minds of the residents of these places, was transformed 
from a symbolic relationship with the ancestors who lived in the place, to a 
more legalistic and market-based ownership of a commodity - one that could 
be sold, rented, or traded, as has been traced in texts such as those described 

Certainly the preceding discussion is not the culminating explanation of the 
human behavioral practices that led to the long-inhabited villages, towns, and cities 
of western Asia. It is rather but one example of how a researcher might employ a 
noetic approach in combination with material culture analysis to yield an explana- 


tion of the intersection between territory, place, kinship, and ancestor as a cogni- 
tive framework for understanding mounds across the Middle Eastern landscape. 

The sacred landscape 

An alternative cognitive approach offers the opportunity to view the landscape as 
one filled not only with ancestors, but with the more overtly spiritual and sacred 
as well. Quite possibly the landscape, or more accurately places on the landscape, 
signified powerful meaning for those choosing residence there. That the landscape 
represented a matrix of cosmological meaning for prehistoric inhabitants is an 
attractive, and even likely, scenario. As mobile foragers settled into farming or 
herding societies, a cosmological landscape may have guided their decision for set- 
tlement location and longevity of place. 

Such perceptions of landscape studies may have substantial coincidence with 
more functional considerations for settlement and permanency. The key is to iden- 
tify the "markers" on that cosmological and thus sacred landscape as they factored 
in the human behavioral construct of settlement choice. In order to interpret tell 
settlement as a product of the residents' belief system, the investigator must first 
recognize the existence of a multi-dimensional sacred landscape in the prehistoric 
past. A researcher seeking the prehistoric sacred landscape would find Tim Ingold's 
views quite helpful: "[the landscape] is not 'land', it is not 'nature', and it is not 
'space'," but rather, "through living in it, the landscape becomes a part of us, just 
as we are a part of it" (1993:153, 154). That people perceive their landscapes as 
living beings, and that they themselves are part of those entities, is a commonly 
understood notion among anthropologists studying present-day non-Western cul- 
tures. However, all too often researchers are reluctant to carry such conceptual 
frameworks into the past as they attempt to divine the answers to settlement prac- 
tices and behavioral constructs. Because we have no living informants, or oral tra- 
ditions, to recount the mythologies of the landscape, archaeologists do not 
automatically consider manifestations of a sacred landscape as a prime mover in 
occupation and interaction with the land (economic, ritual, or otherwise) . Nonethe- 
less, it is not at all unlikely that the mobile inhabitants of the prehistoric Near East 
believed the landscape to be alive beneath their feet: that the winds originated from 
the breaths of the spirits, rivers and streams flowed from their lifeblood, and the 
mountains and valleys were contours of their corporeal forms. 

There is ample evidence to suggest that a culture's mythology is instrumental 
in the decision-making processes involved in settlement choice and continued 
permanency. Several recent volumes focus on the sacrality of the landscape 
(Carmichael et al. 1994; Feld and Basso 1996; Ashmore and Knapp 1999). Such 
a cognitive approach would include a phase-based research agenda for under- 
standing the prehistoric sacred landscape: (1) recognition of the presence of land- 
scape features that might have held spiritual significance for ancient inhabitants and 
acknowledgement that such places served as matrices of power; (2) evaluation of 
the use of the landscape, and the settlement itself, for clues to document the 


existence of a sacred landscape as a determinant in settlement choice and longevity 
of place; (3) interpretation of the significance of those landscape matrices of spiri- 
tuality within the cosmography of the prehistoric inhabitants of that locality. 

The first step, identifying significative landscape features, is certainly the most 
straightforward. Recent research has already offered a type of "categorization" of 
potentially sacred landscape features (Tilley 1994; Tacon 1999:37; Crumley 1999). 
Among these are mountains and valleys (Brady and Ashmore 1999), forests, trees, 
or places with specialized vegetation (Parker Pearson et al. 1999), places with 
natural water flows (Tacon 1999), and locations with unusual features such as a 
cave or a jutting high place, perhaps offering a far-reaching view (Theodoratus and 
LaPena 1994; Saunders 1994). Particularly powerful are locations at which any of 
these features intersect (Carmichael 1994:92; Tacon 1999:37). 

Across the Middle Eastern landscape, whether the Anatolian plateau, the 
Levantine littoral, or the alluvium of Mesopotamia, topographical features such as 
natural rises, fresh water sources, vegetational oddities, and caves and rock shelters, 
should capture the researcher's interest. Such features have already been discussed 
as crucial to functional and rational considerations when choosing a settlement 
location. However, there is no reason why these topographic features were not also 
part of a "living," sacred landscape to which the inhabitants saw themselves as in- 
extricably tied. Thus, a researcher's "first step" in recognizing a sacred landscape is 
to search the region for likely nodes of intersection between human cognition of 
the sacred and the human-built environment. Such localities may be as dramatic 
as a mountain peak or as understated as an unusual rock formation. The challenge 
is to recognize the significance of that place to those who occupied the landscape 
centuries or millennia before. 

The identification of potentially critical features in the surrounding landscape 
allows the researcher to next consider the location of the settlement within that 
landscape and the material culture within that settlement. A close evaluation of 
clues to a prehistoric cosmology is indeed fraught with difficulties, but essential. At 
times such clues are so vivid they nearly strike the archaeologist in the face: the 
animal motifs, and even more specifically, the wall-painting of a village nestled 
against a volcano, at Catal Hoyiik (Mellaart 1967:176), the Palaeolithic European 
cave paintings, or the female figurines found in Bronze Age Minoan contexts, are 
examples of what might be termed remains with "obvious" ritual meaning. 
However, the presence of such material remains does not necessarily make the job 
of interpreting religious meaning pro forma, they simply give researchers more overt 
data to work with, and indeed, argue over. In other cases, material remains are far 
more ambiguous and identifying them even as bearing ritual import is problematic. 
It is sometimes more profitable to focus not on the artifactual remains but on the 
settlement itself. 

The built environment often harbors ritual meanings embodied in room, house, 
and even village layout and orientation. The Tukanoans of Amazonia, for instance, 
construct their malocas (longhouses) to reflect "the nested imagery of womb and 
child, compartment and family, longhouse and community"; the dwelling itself 
emulates the structure of the cosmos embodied in the Tukanoan belief system 


(Hugh-Jones 1995:233-234). The Tewa of the American Southwest construct vil- 
lages that reproduce their cosmos, including orientation to cardinal directionality 
and representation of landscape features (i.e., mountains, rivers, etc.), all carefully 
relating creation myths and sacred stories (Tilley 1994:63-66; Snead and Preucel 
1999). Thus, the built environment itself, including its very construction materials, 
decoration, orientation, and layout, can instruct the researcher regarding the sacred 
landscape and its interconnections with those who inhabit it. 

The previous examples show that an intimate knowledge of the occupying 
culture's cosmology is, of course, enormously helpful, but it is not necessarily imper- 
ative. An example of understanding the settlement in the context of its landscape 
comes from my own project in central Turkey. Cadir Hoyuk is a 33m tall mound, 
situated on a natural rise above a river valley surrounded by gentle hills. The set- 
tlement offers occupational remains spanning the Late Chalcolithic to Byzantine 
period, with few gaps in this long sequence of habitation. The remains that are of 
particular interest to the present study are those from the Late Chalcolithic where 
we have carried out our most extensive excavations (Gorny et al. 1999, 2000, 2002). 
The Late Chalcolithic inhabitants of Cadir Hoyuk, based on our paleobotanical 
and paleozoological reports, practiced a mixed farming and herding lifestyle; it 
appears that settlement, from the earliest known occupation (ca. 5200 B.C.E.), was 
year-round. Previous studies of these remains have offered methods for interpret- 
ing the architecture, inter- and intra-room spatial analysis, and long-distance trade 
connections (Steadman 1995, 2000). It is in the preparation of my contribution 
to this volume that my investigation turns in earnest to the consideration of the 
settlement's placement in its larger landscape. 

A practical analysis of the location offers some easily recognizable selection 
choices: Cadir rests at the confluence of two rivers, the Egri Su and the Kanak Su; 
it is surrounded by arable lands that would also have supported grazing; the site 
lies near or on a trade route heavily used in the Bronze Age, and perhaps in earlier 
periods as well. Also of interest is the decision of Cadir's first inhabitants to settle 
on a natural rise; though initial explanations might suggest defense as a factor, there 
is, as yet, no evidence to support this interpretation. The decision to settle on the 
bedrock outcropping may simply reflect a desire to avoid wasting valuable arable 
land, as well as to offer residents a pleasant view of the countryside. However, taking 
a step beyond practical matters of settlement choice guides me to acknowledge the 
prominence of a conically-shaped peak rising from behind the lower hills southeast 
of the site. This peak, today known as Caltepe, is the highest elevation visible to the 
residents of Cadir. I note it here because it may have played a role in the original 
and successive Late Chalcolithic settlements at the site. The original inhabitants, 
presumably faced with a choice with regard to orientation of the village, chose a 
southeast/northwest axis in direct line with the rise of Caltepe peak. The rectangu- 
lar homes, pathways, and at least some doorways, are oriented so that ingress and 
egress offer views of this natural monument. Two other architectural features at the 
site are also built on this orientation, possibly with this peak in mind: the impres- 
sive stone gateway into the settlement faces Caltepe, and an enigmatic stepped plat- 
form leading to what may have been a "high place" or even a structure more overtly 


ritual in nature (unfortunately, the destination of the stepped platform was 
destroyed by erosion and a later Hittite house), appears built with Caltepe in mind. 

The very brief description of architectural features and orientation at Cadir is 
inadequate to give the reader a clear understanding of the Late Chalcolithic settle- 
ment; rather, the intention was to provide a glimpse into the avenues of investiga- 
tion the present author might follow with regard to identifying the role a sacred 
landscape may have played in Cadiran settlement choice and stasis of place. Though 
fresh water must have been of crucial importance to the earliest settlers, it was the 
high place on the landscape that commanded their attention. Mountains, not caves, 
earth, or water, may be the focus of my future investigations. Thus, the identifica- 
tion of features that, in ancient times, may have been imbued with sacrality, paves 
the road to the third and final step in this phased research design. 

This "third step" is, by far, the most daunting. Seemingly it requires a giant leap 
of faith, or perhaps to put it more prosaically, a rather active imagination. When 
presented with a mountain, a water source, or perhaps a cave, without an explana- 
tory framework in place, the researcher would be free to develop any number of 
ideas about the meaning of these features in a prehistoric cosmology. However, 
there are, in fact, interpretive models that can help the researcher anchor her recon- 
struction of prehistoric belief systems in more data-driven hypotheses. These 
methods rely first and foremost on one's familiarity with the culture: an under- 
standing of the basic economy, an awareness of the material culture, and knowl- 
edge about architectural layouts and functions of buildings are all essential. 
Secondly, theoretical frameworks that include ethnographic components and 
methodologies for interpreting belief systems can provide a supportable intersec- 
tion between landscape and cosmology (e.g., Brady and Ashmore 1999; Snead and 
Preucel 1999; Fullagar and Head 1999). 

At the outset the researcher must bring the willingness to apply more cognitive- 
symbolically based interpretations to artifactual remains that might otherwise spend 
their lives in a utilitarian framework of explanation. For instance, the warclubs of 
the North American Winnebago culture are, indeed, used for war, but they also rep- 
resent symbolically the culture's two major moieties (earth and sky), through the 
stylized designs of constellatory systems carved on the warclubs (Hall 1989). In the 
same vein, obsidian in Neolithic Anatolia may be viewed as more than just a valu- 
able material for tool construction. Hasan Dag, probably the mountain painted 
on the wall of one of the Catal Hoyiik structures (shrines?), is represented as 
part of the landscape in which the settlement is situated. Clearly the artist meant 
to symbolize the importance of this peak to the village, possibly because of its valu- 
able resource, obsidian. Obsidian was a vital component to Catal's economy, and 
it is not a terrific stretch of the imagination to suspect that more symbolic inter- 
pretations should be piggy-backed onto the more utilitarian interpretations of its 

But what did Hasan Dag mean to the Catalians, or Caltepe to the Cadirans, or 
the other landscape features so prominent visually yet so intransigent to interpre- 
tation? It is here that one must turn to the work of one's colleagues and to models 
that have generated guidelines that may point toward elusive solutions to one's ques- 


tions. The selection of appropriate research ranges from studies so broadly based 
that their explanations offer pan-cultural approaches, while others are so specific to 
peculiar circumstances that they are useful to perhaps a single investigator. 

Examples of more broadly conceived explanatory frameworks include the com- 
pendia of research accomplished on the subjects of gender-based religions using 
evidence such as human figurines, environmental settings, and economic pursuits. 
Such studies explore possible connections between agriculture and the female prin- 
ciple, and animal husbandry as a male pursuit (see Sanday 1981 and Bowie 2000 
for summaries of research; also Kuijt and Chessson, this volume). Already touched 
upon is the extensive literature on the relationship between domicile, cosmology, 
and perception of landscape. It is with astonishing frequency that inhabitants build 
their environments to mirror, symbolically, their cosmographical perception of the 
larger landscape (e.g., Bourdieu 1977; Hugh-Jones 1979; Hodder 1990). Perhaps 
of even greater use to the individual researcher might be studies that focus on par- 
ticular elements within cultural settings. Such specific studies have become plenti- 
ful within the last decade as volumes devoted to the archaeology of landscape 
(Parker Pearson and Richards 1994; Carmichael et al. 1994; Hirsch and 
O'Hanlon 1995; Ashmore and Knapp 1999; Ucko and Layton 1999) have 
appeared. Contained within this vast literature, advanced by scholars who have 
opened themselves to the cognitive past, are potential clues to the meaning of 
mounds rising across a sacred landscape. 

The researcher, faced with a landscape that demands interpretation, must com- 
mence upon that endeavor. However, the starting point in completing the "third 
step" of the phase-based research outlined above is far from clear. Is it best to begin 
with the notable landscape features, employ the archaeo-history of the region, and 
attempt to intuit their meaning? In other words, the researcher chooses an induc- 
tive approach that focuses specifically on a particular region's landscape, features, 
and inhabitants. Who better to rebuild the symbolic landscape, in essence "from 
the ground up," than the archaeologist who is intimate with every extant scrap her 
culture left behind. From those scraps we build the actions, and the thoughts behind 
the actions, of those who lived before. This is precisely the method I used in the 
preliminary interpretation of the Caltepe peak at Cadir Hoyiik. 

Based on my years of work at Cadir Hoyiik, in combination with my research 
interests, I can certainly say I came by my interpretations honestly. My interests in 
landscape archaeology had led me to explore how other researchers attempted to 
explain their landscapes. Many of these works are referenced in this chapter; they 
are not limited to the Middle East but span the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Thus, 
the natural inclination of the researcher, i.e., to research, provides the background 
necessary to engage in the investigation of one's own particular setting. In other 
words, the cumulative data from cross-cultural investigation allowed for a general 
beginning, and then narrowed to a specific interpretation of a particular landscape 
feature located within the context of the culture with which I am most familiar. 
However, the question here is not what my own methodology was, but rather, what 
is the "correct" methodology to pursue? Or, even further, is there a correct method- 
ology at all? 


An answer to the proposed question(s) is, of course, impossible. Nor is it feas- 
ible to review all the theoretical models that would act as the perfect complement 
to a researcher's attempts to unravel the secrets embedded in the ancient inhabi- 
tants' landscape. The closest to suggesting a "methodology" that this particular 
study can come is to report that the process employed by the author seemed the 
most productive at £adir. Thus, one reviews cross-cultural approaches, in con- 
junction with an inductively (hermeneutically) based investigation of features of the 
landscape that coincide with one's perceived sensibilities, nationalities, ideations, 
and beliefs of the past culture who inhabited that landscape. 

Indeed, it is the quest for answers that drives us to uncover the past and reassem- 
ble it into a complete picture. It is quite possible, even likely, that a researcher may 
never satisfactorily (with regard to her own expectations) fully achieve the most dif- 
ficult third step in modeling a sacred landscape. The appearance of a full-fledged 
cosmology reported in a site report, and written as if an informant sat for hours as 
the tape-recorder ran, would most likely be met with suspicion and even derision. 
The line between data-based inference and utter imagination must be carefully 
drawn and assiduously followed. However, it should never be doubted that spiri- 
tuality and mysticism most probably played a significant role in the settlement prac- 
tices and indeed in the remarkable stasis of place that created mounds as matrices 
of meaning across a sacred landscape. 


Middle Eastern mounds contain secrets to the past that will never be unearthed. 
The fact that these secrets may be conceptual rather than material in nature makes 
our work even more daunting. Ancestors and spirits may have been far from the 
minds of prehistoric inhabitants as they chose to settle and remain on a portion of 
soil for decades, centuries, millennia. But we, as the illuminators of the past, have 
spent too long envisioning mindless and faceless figures making decisions based 
purely on survivability and practicality. The past that we study was created by actors 
who thought about, emoted over, and believed in the natural world around them 
in terms that must have reached far beyond the functional. As we stretch our own 
minds beyond the functional, into the cognitive, we will surely be led to places that 
allow us to view those actors as living, breathing, thinking beings whose homes high 
atop a human-made hill evoked deeply-felt faith and emotion as they carried out 
their daily lives. To connect with even a fraction of that perception of the living 
landscape moves us exponentially forward as we carry out our roles as elucidators 
of those who made the past, for those who inhabit the present. 


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Archaeology and Texts in 
the Ancient Near East 

Paul Zimansky 

From its infancy as a discipline, archaeology in the Middle East has been intimately 
tied to the written record. Inscriptions were among the first artifacts from 
Mesopotamia and Iran brought to the attention of early modern Europe by travel- 
ers, whose interests were inspired in the first place by a text 1 par excellence - the 
Bible. When excavations were initiated in Mesopotamia in the 1840s and 1850s, 
they produced a flood of tablets and monumental inscriptions that facilitated the 
decipherment of Akkadian and led to the identification of additional hitherto 
unknown languages and cultures such as Elamite, Urartian, Human, and Sumer- 
ian. 2 When George Smith announced the discovery of a Mesopotamian flood story 
in 1873 (Lloyd 1980:146) many saw cuneiform as a window on the most remote 
periods of the past, if not on the origins of humanity itself. Although this illusion 
was gradually undermined by advances in geology and evolutionary biology, finding 
tablets remained one of the primary objectives of archaeology in the ancient Orient. 

The extent to which this was a priority is revealed in a controversy that took 
place in the late 1880s among the planners of America's first overseas field project 
in the Middle East, the University of Pennsylvania's Nippur expedition. Its epigra- 
pher and later director, Hermann Hilprecht, contended that it would be more effi- 
cient to purchase tablets from local diggers than to deal with the logistics and 
supervision of excavation directly (Kucklick 1996:49). While this policy was not 
enacted, the fact that it was even considered shows the extent to which the archae- 
ology of southern Mesopotamia was a tablet hunt, with sites like Telloh and Nippur 
mined for their lode of new epigraphic material. Emphasis on recovering artifacts 
that could speak for themselves in writing was not unreasonable in an era when the 
potential of archaeology for establishing chronological sequences, defining contexts, 
and attacking questions of historical interest through mute material remains had 
yet to be realized. 

The methods that eventually gave archaeology legitimacy as a discipline in the 
late 1 9th and early 20th centuries were developed, for the most part, in other areas, 


but there are a few specifically associated with the Middle East. W. M. Flinders 
Petrie is remembered in introductory archaeology textbooks today as the creator of 
an ingenious system of sequence dating for pre-Dynastic Egypt. During a brief 
sojourn in Palestine, he also first recognized the potential of using pottery and 
exhibited an appreciation for the stratigraphy of tells for cross-dating and chrono- 
logical coordination (Moorey 1991:28-29). The arrival of German excavators at 
Zincirli, Babylon, Assur, and Uruk, with their emphasis on broad horizontal expo- 
sures and recovery of architectural remains, did much to foster an appreciation 
for context that could give voice to artifactual information in its own right 
(Lloyd 1980:174). 

Once effective methods for investigating prehistory were developed, the Middle 
East assumed a pivotal role in the study of the human past for reasons such as the 
origins of agriculture and the emergence of state-organized complex societies, that 
had little to do with the inscriptions its archaeologists continued to uncover. Nev- 
ertheless, the Middle East remains an arena of exceptional interchange and feed- 
back between philological and archaeological research. Writing itself is an 
archaeological concern here. The first fully developed system of recording language 
graphically, cuneiform, can be traced back to its origins in less sophisticated record- 
ing devices through the findings of archaeologists in the tells of southern 
Mesopotamia (Gelb 1963:61-72). The alphabet was also an invention of the ancient 
Orient, and its evolution from a local experiment in the early second millennium 
to the inspiration for Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, and Latin scripts of the first mil- 
lennium B.C.E. is manifest in small inscribed artifacts of modest philological 

It is not just the historical priority of writing or the unparalleled time depth of 
the record that makes it a concern to the archaeologist: a key point is that an extra- 
ordinary proportion of the written record for the Middle East has been extracted 
from the soil, and thus has an archaeological context. Most of the writing germane 
to Mesopotamia, Assyria, the Hittites, pre-Achaemenid Iran, etc. does not come 
from external observations or information transmitted from generation to genera- 
tion as does, for example, the historical documentation for the emergence of Rome 
or the early dynastic history of China. It is instead reconstructed from materials 
largely composed in the time and culture to which they are relevant and recovered 
as physical objects. 

Less direct means of historical transmission between the ancient Near East and 
the present are not inconsequential, but there have been significant disruptions. 
Discontinuity is bridged only imperfectly by accounts of such writers as Herodotus, 
Cteisias, Xenophon, Berossos, and Strabo.The Bible constitutes an exception, obvi- 
ously, but it is a late and parochial collection of documents in comparison to the 
corpus of cuneiform materials in various languages (see Finkelstein, this volume). 3 
On the other hand, an unrivaled volume of written material survives thanks to the 
durability of the primary media of literacy in the ancient Near East, clay tablets 
and stone monuments. A good part of what comes out of the ground is quite 
mundane: lists of commodities like sheep or beer rations, receipts, private cor- 
respondence, tablets on which a scribe in training jotted a few signs, etc. The 


information these documents transmit is of a different character than what is avail- 
able to ancient historians who work only with documents that were intended for 
posterity, and opens windows onto aspects of daily life that would be hidden to us 
had they been written on perishable materials like parchment, wood, or papyrus. 
These make it possible to write "history from below," to use the phrase of one 
modern practitioner (Van de Mieroop 1999). 

This is not to deny that a very real historical tradition existed within the ancient 
Near East or to claim that all written documents are contemporary with the periods 
on which they shed light. Some texts report on events long in the past and others 
fraudulently purport to be earlier compositions than they actually are. As early as 
the end of the third millennium B.C.E., scribes were actively incorporating local 
dynastic lists into a master framework for the history of southern Mesopotamia 
(Jacobsen 1939:128-164). The Assyrian King List presents a chain of succession 
that spans nearly 1,500 years (Pritchard 1969:564-566). Among the Hittites, to 
cite a particularly prominent case, older tablets were frequently recopied by scribes 
and classic texts originally composed several centuries earlier were found in several 
copies in the royal archives at Bogazkoy (Bryce 1998:420). In royal chancelleries 
and temple communities throughout the Near East, professionals maintained a 
stream of religious and literary continuity as well as propagating texts for the audi- 
ence of posterity. This included documents in Sumerian, which, like Latin, was 
maintained as a written language centuries after it ceased to be spoken. 

The interplay of epigraphy, archaeology, and ancient concepts of tradition is 
clearly illustrated by Nabonidus of Babylon (555-539 B.C.E.), who excavated 
sequences of temple foundations, linked them with previous rulers on the basis of 
inscriptions, and performed restorations of buildings and monuments to legitimize 
his own imperial policies (Beaulieu 1989:138-148). One of the subjects of 
Nabonidus's antiquarian interests, Hammurabi, also presents an interesting case of 
a textually documented individual leaving a strong imprint in the archaeological 
record. He is best known for his law code, which survives as a diorite stele in the 
Louvre, and has been replicated in many modern casts, providing the first text that 
many contemporary students encounter in learning Akkadian. The original was 
recovered in 19th-century C.E. excavations at Susa, where it had been brought as 
an item of booty by the Elamites in the 12th century B. C.E. The tradition of these 
laws was sufficiently independent of the original monument that at least one copy 
of them is attested in a tablet inventory of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Fales and 
Postgate 1992:69). Hammurabi's numerous surviving letters show him to be an 
administrator for whom almost no matter was too trivial (e.g., Kraus 1968:passim). 
His destruction of the palace of Mari, one of the richest sites in the Near East, 
speaks for the effectiveness of his armies and left behind a trove of tablets that 
enlighten us on many aspects of the politics and society of his age. Thus the career 
of one individual has left its imprint on the archaeological record in several differ- 
ent ways, from the mundane to the monumental, and in historical traditions fos- 
tered by ancient libraries and modern cultural institutions. 

With these mutual dependencies, one would expect philology and archaeology 
to be thoroughly integrated, yet there is a tension between the fields that leads prac- 


titioners of both to lament that the potential integration has not been fully realized 
(Liverani 1999). One factor that has complicated the exchange of information 
between textual and archaeological sources is the division between archaeology and 
epigraphy as academic specialities (Van de Mieroop 1999:5). Training in ancient 
languages such as Akkadian, Hittite, and Sumerian, is demanding, but not greatly 
in demand. It is only offered at a few elite institutions and most Assyriologists - as 
cuneiform specialists are called in deference to the original source of cuneiform 
tablets, whether or not they have any interest in Assyria proper - generally devote 
their efforts to the interpretation of tablets themselves. Although there are rare indi- 
viduals who have shown equal capacities in philology and archaeology, and cer- 
tainly some cross-training between the disciplines, most analysis of texts is done by 
people who are not actually concerned with the contextual recovery of artifacts. 
There is also apt to be a somewhat different conception of audience for the prod- 
ucts of the research in the two specialties. Philology is, by its very nature, cultur- 
ally specific and particularistic, often focusing on unique creations and individual 
behavior. Archaeologists, on the other hand, usually attempt to understand human 
behavior in the aggregate (Childe 1956:13-15), and may move from culture to 
culture during their careers, or even in the course of a single stratigraphic excava- 
tion. Such factors often lead to breakdowns in communication and a failure of both 
disciplines to exploit the potential offered by actually finding written documents in 
the ground. I shall return to this point after a discussion of the character of the 
written record. 

Writing Systems of the Ancient Near East 

Mechanisms for recording linguistic information graphically have a longer history 
in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world, but it is important to recog- 
nize that writing is very unevenly represented in both time and space. Some systems 
are in fact quite defective in recording clear links to language, functioning more as 
mnemonic devices for limited types of information than fully developed mecha- 
nisms capable of transmitting any and all thought. While it may be technically 
correct to speak of literacy beginning five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, this 
starting point is not as dramatic a boundary as is, for example, the divide between 
prehistoric and historical archaeology in North America. For long stretches of time 
after the invention of cuneiform the archaeologist must work without the benefit of 
documentary evidence, which is often silent on some of the most essential aspects 
of even relatively "literate" societies, including the large proportion of the popula- 
tion that made no use of writing whatever. 4 

The cuneiform system originated in southern Mesopotamia in the late fourth 
millennium B.C.E., where the earliest tablets, found in level IV of the Eanna dis- 
trict of Uruk, appear to be purely numeric (Nissen et al. 1993:13-14). It has been 
suggested that the system of notation may have been developed to replace a system 
of tokens or tallies that were sealed in tangerine- or orange-sized clay envelopes, or 
bullae, in the years preceding its introduction, but the thesis that the first signs were 


originally pictorial representations of "complex tokens" (Schmandt-Besserat 1992: 
vol. 1, 142-150) remains unsubstantiated. There can be little doubt, however, that 
the primary emphasis in early recording was keeping track of commodities. Nearly 
simultaneously with Uruk's development of the precursors of the sign forms that 
were to remain in use in the following millennia, another script, also making use of 
clay as the basic medium but having a slightly different inventory of signs, appeared 
in the neighboring Susiana Plain, undoubtedly stimulated by the same social needs 
that generated writing in Mesopotamia. Despite some continuity with later writing, 
this "Proto-Elamite" script remains undeciphered (Walker 1987:41; Damerow and 
Englund 1989). 

The primary historical value of fourth-millennium writing is in the light it sheds 
on bureaucratic procedures in the earliest state-organized societies. Linguistically, 
it is not particularly informative. Only Uruk has produced a substantial corpus of 
documents, and in these there is almost no grammar or phonological information. 
Most of the texts are "economic" or "administrative" in that they are simple tags, 
records of quantities of commodities, or cryptic notes of transactions. A few 
"lexical" lists seem to have served as exercises devoted to scribal training (Nissen 
et al. 1993: 19-24). There are a large number of signs and different counting systems 
in evidence. What language lay behind the writing is uncertain. 5 

Tablets and inscribed stone objects dating to the following centuries have been 
found at several sites in southern Iraq and Syria. General continuity with the script 
of the Uruk period is clear, but there are also significant changes. The signs, ini- 
tially pictorial, develop more abstract forms and are now wedges made with a tri- 
angular stylus rather than drawings, although many numbers continue to be made 
by impressions of an instrument (presumably the opposite end of the stylus) with 
a circular rather than triangular cross section. A significant development is the stan- 
dardization of signs and a great reduction in their number from over 1,000 to 
approximately 600 basic forms. The writing became increasingly phonetic, with 
many signs being used for their syllabic value rather than standing for whole words 
(Nissen et al. 1993:116-124). 

Mesopotamia appears to have been multilingual well before it was literate, with 
place names and certain technical terms indicating the erstwhile presence of non- 
Semitic, non-Sumerian speaking groups. With the rise of Sargon and his dynasty 
to power in the twenty-fourth century, cuneiform came to be used for recording 
the Akkadian language, but even earlier Sumerian tablets found at Tell Abu 
Salabikh appear to have been written by scribes with names that are etymologically 
Akkadian (Biggs 1967). Before it disappeared in the first century C.E. (Walker 
1987:17-18), the logo-syllabic cuneiform system spread throughout the Near East 
and was also used to write Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite, Hattic, Hurrian, Luwian, Palaic, 
and Urartian. 6 Two additional scripts, Ugaritic and Old Persian, invented inde- 
pendently in the second and first millennia B.C.E., respectively, are sometimes 
called "cuneiform," although they operate on quite different principles. Their char- 
acters are indeed wedge-shaped, but in each case they are restricted in number to 
around thirty and function essentially as defective syllabaries (consonant with vowel 
unspecified) or consonantal alphabets (Walker 1987:44-47). 


The Semitic alphabet, ancestral to our own, also emerged in the Middle East. 
Its history is much more difficult to trace than the development of cuneiform 
because it was normally written on perishable materials and comparatively few 
documents survive. The first attempts at alphabetic writing are generally thought 
to have come about through the interaction of Semitic speaking peoples of the 
Levant with Egypt around the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E. (Healey 
1990: 16-1 9). The gradual evolution of the characters can be traced from the second 
millennium Levant to the Phoenician alphabet in the early Iron Age and thence via 
Greece, Etruria, and Rome, to their form on the present page. Vowels, it should be 
noted, were not added to this writing system until it reached Greece (Healey 

In the Iron Age, variations of the alphabetic script were used to record a number 
of related languages such as Hebrew, Moabite, and Aramaic. Sealings, ostraka, 
papyri, and a few royal display inscriptions present evidence for these in some quan- 
tity. Ultimately, Aramaic was the linguistic survivor, and the Hebrew Bible the most 
substantial text in the ancient Near Eastern alphabetic tradition. By the end of the 
first millennium B.C.E., these scripts were in competition with Greek and Latin, 
but their prevalence is demonstrated by such documents as the Dead Sea Scrolls 
and their subsequent replacement by Arabic was never total. 

One other quite distinctive script was developed in ancient western Asia, 
although its importance pales in comparison to cuneiform and the Semitic alpha- 
bets. In the Hittite Empire, various symbols first seen on sealings were elaborated 
to create a logo-syllabic hieroglyphic writing system. It is now recognized that the 
language conveyed by these "Hittite hieroglyphs," whenever there is sufficient indi- 
cation of phonology to judge, is not Hittite at all, but rather Luwian, its cousin in 
the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family. When Hittite and Luwian ceased 
to be written in cuneiform with the demise of the Hittite Empire around 1200 
B.C.E., this hieroglyphic script came into widespread use in successor principali- 
ties of southern Anatolia and northern Syria. Artifactually, it survives largely in the 
form of royal display inscriptions, although the existence of a small number of 
private letters on lead strips suggests that it had wider uses (Hawkins 1986). 

Texts as Artifacts 

Although there is some justification for the belief that Mesopotamian civilization 
was at times unusually bureaucratic and literate, there can be no doubt that tapho- 
nomic factors are primarily responsible for the wealth of mundane documentation 
available for study. The cuneiform system was designed for clay, virtually the only 
thing available to write on in southern Mesopotamia. Although most tablets were 
merely sun dried, they still survive extraordinarily well in normal archaeological 
deposits such as trash dumps and on floors of abandoned houses. Archaeologists 
in other areas, for example the Aegean, despair of finding clay tablets in contexts 
where there has not been a conflagration to at least partially fire them (Chadwick 
1976:18), but this is not a necessary condition for survival in the Middle East. They 


endure even in damp soils, and I have personally observed unbaked tablet frag- 
ments and seal impressions retain their legibility and decoration after having 
been inadvertently washed in a notation machine. In southern Mesopotamia exca- 
vated tablets are sometimes shattered by crystals of salt that form in the clay as they 
dry out, and of course any tablet that lies unprotected on a site's surface for any 
length of time will weather away, but otherwise, once buried, they have a high sur- 
vival rate. 

Tablets could be baked, of course, and this was done primarily to documents for 
which some sort of permanence was expected. Some of the most spectacular exam- 
ples of the latter are the clay prisms on which the annals of Assyrian kings were 
recorded, recovered in the early days of excavation. Formal sealed treaties, literary 
texts, and other archival documents were treated in this way, but archaeological 
recovery of these, particularly in modern excavations, is far less common than 
unbaked tablets. Perhaps the most common class of durable inscribed object is the 
baked brick, which is often stamped with a short text giving the name of a king and 
the structure for which the brick was created. 

The contexts in which tablets are found are quite varied. In some celebrated 
cases, it is quite appropriate to speak of the recovery of archives or libraries. The 
first of these to be discovered, and still probably the most important, was 
Assurbanipal's Library at Nineveh, a collection made by the last great king of 
Assyria (Oppenheim 1977: 15-1 8). There are inventories that suggest that an impor- 
tant part of the material assembled was not on tablets, but on writing boards, 
which unfortunately do not survive (Parpola 1983:4-8). There is also testimony 
pertinent to the original sources of the tablets in the form of letters indicating the 
king's interest in collecting tablets (Oppenheim 1977:244). The majority of texts 
from the Hittite capital also come from imperial archives, of which there was one 
in the royal palace on the citadel of Biiyukkale and another in the principal temple 
of the city below. The discovery of a completely unexpected major archive was made 
in 1975 at Tell Mardikh, Syria, where tablets of the third-millennium kingdom 
of Ebla lay in rows as they had been shelved in an annex at the side of a palace 

Many sites produce massive numbers of tablets that were not in any way intended 
for posterity. There are indeed palace archives at Ugarit, but excavation there has 
produced thousands of additional tablets in various contexts, especially in the level 
that marks the destruction of the site at the end of the Bronze Age (Pedersen 
1998:68-80). One group of letters, reportedly found in kilns, reflects exchanges 
between the king of Ugarit and other potentates reporting on the approach of the 
enemies who apparently destroyed the site. A similar situation is seen at the palace 
of Mari, where the soldiers of Hammurabi, who destroyed it, left documents in the 
ruins that inform us of the politics of the period immediately preceding the destruc- 
tion, as well as all other aspects of palace life. These destructions, which were no 
doubt catastrophes for those who lived at the time, tend to produce masses of evi- 
dence of a single time and place, upon each of which generations of Assyriologists 
have been able to build their research careers. 


One may contrast these epigraphic extravaganzas with the more prosaic forms 
of archaeological recovery in which tablets are found in smaller numbers in con- 
texts less likely to reflect their use than their discard. The site of Nippur in south- 
ern Mesopotamia may be taken as an example of the latter. It has multiple periods 
of occupation, in most of which scattered documents are found, albeit unevenly. 
School tablets, upon which a student has clumsily jotted a few lines, occasionally 
corrected by a teacher, are a fairly common appearance in trash deposits through- 
out the site. One quite important group of tablets from the early first millennium 
- a period in which documents are generally quite rare - was found in soil that was 
thrown in around a coffin to fill an isolated grave (Cole 1996:1). But even in these 
instances they provide useful dating information. Tablets of this non-public type, 
regardless of their subject and completeness, are sensitive chronological indicators, 
which archaeologists use to anchor stratigraphic sequences. Sometimes they are 
quite precise. For example, legal and economic texts are often dated to the year, 
month, and day. All types of writing are sensitive to subtle changes in fashion which 
make them roughly datable on the basis of style. Datable tablets, or more usually 
tablet fragments, are used by archaeologists in much the same way that dated coins 
are used in later archaeological contexts - at a minimum they establish a terminus 
post quern for the archaeological level in which they are found. Since they are gen- 
erally short-lived in their use and it is a relatively simple matter to discern whether 
they are in use or discard contexts, they also often suggest, granted less precisely, 
the end of a range as well. 

Display inscriptions have contextual value on those occasions when they survive 
in situ. Foundation deposits, in which inscribed figurines, clay cones, and ceremo- 
nial tablets were sometimes placed under the walls of buildings, provide quite reli- 
able information on their sponsors. The same information is provided by stamped 
bricks, which rulers created in massive numbers in some periods, but these were 
frequently re-used in other buildings. Inscriptions on stone were often set up as 
stelae or architectural components to commemorate building activities and histor- 
ical events, such as military campaigns. These reach a pinnacle of decorative and 
narrative value in the royal palaces of the Neo-Assyrian kings of the earlier half of 
the first millennium B.C.E. at Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Nineveh. The fmdspots of 
isolated display inscriptions can also provide quite useful historical information. For 
example, the distribution of building and campaign inscriptions on cliff faces and 
semi-portable stone blocks, all datable to the reign of a given ruler, are the primary 
means by which the expansion and decline of the kingdom of Urartu can be traced 
(Zimansky 1985:48-76). They provide the dates for individual sites, which in turn 
yield dated pottery and other artifacts. 

The issue of context is one in which archaeologists, who view tablets as artifacts, 
sometimes find themselves in ethical conflict with philologists, who see them as 
documents that can, to a considerable degree, speak for themselves. Cuneiform 
tablets and other inscribed objects have, unfortunately, a monetary value and are 
traded on the antiquities market, despite the fact that they reach that market 
through illegal excavation and export. Misinformation about their findspots is often 


provided as a smokescreen. Moreover, the trade favors whole tablets and ignores 
fragments, although the latter often contain quite valuable information. In the 
ground the archaeologists generally find roughly ten fragments per whole tablet, so 
an illegal excavation is apt to destroy much more textual information than it brings 
to light. When a document does appear under such circumstances, the ethical posi- 
tion of the archaeologist is absolutely clear. It has been stripped of its context and 
therefore of much of its value, to say nothing of the damage that is done to archae- 
ological sites generally by unrestrained burrowing. One does not wish to reward the 
thieves and the operators of the fencing networks in the West or encourage them in 
greater destruction by publishing and validating their offerings. For those who 
specialize in reading documents, however, these objects are a great temptation. 
Cuneiform is sufficiently difficult to counterfeit that Assyriologists are generally 
confident they can distinguish forgeries from genuine documents, although there 
are controversies enough on specific cases to raise suspicion on this point. They are 
used to working with unprovenienced materials since many museum collections 
were put together almost entirely by purchase, and even catalogues of early exca- 
vated tablets contain little more than the name of the site and the date of acquisi- 
tion. It is only recently that archaeologists have had the opportunity to provide 
detailed contextual information on tablet findspots and demonstrate the value this 
adds to the text, and to this day the convention of publishing tablets separately from 
other excavated artifacts persists. Under these circumstances, many feel that the 
information in the inscription simply cannot be sacrificed to the deficiencies of its 
pedigree, thus insuring continued grounds for divorce between archaeology and 

With other, less portable or more perishable written media, this problem of illegal 
trade and context damage is less pervasive, but still present. The same sorts of 
information found in cuneiform were committed to these other forms of writing on 
occasion, but much less of it has survived. We have already noted, for example, the 
minimal private correspondence incised on lead strips in Luwian hieroglyphs. 
Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic alphabetic writing of the early Iron Age for private 
purposes has been discovered painted on sherds at such sites as Lachish (Torczyner 
et al. 1938) and Arad (Aharoni 1981) in Israel. Some of these were letters and 
others had to do with palace administration. Perhaps the most celebrated discov- 
ery is a storage jar sherd from Kuntillet Ajrud on which is written an imprecation 
toYahweh and "his Ashera" - the latter a subject of much speculation but looking 
rather like a wife or female principle that the monotheism of the Biblical text did 
not prepare us to find in an eighth-century B.C.E. context (Dever 2001:183-187). 

With regard to the documentation deliberately created with posterity or a broad 
propagation of information in mind, alphabetic and Luwian hieroglyphic monu- 
ments constitute a corpus similar in character to that in other parts of the world, 
such as in Rome or among the classic Maya. Most monumental display inscriptions 
were carved in stone and many were associated with images that bring them into 
the purview of the history of art. The inscriptions reinforce ideological positions of 
religion or politics and are themselves a demonstration of power in the mere fact 
that their creators had sufficient resources to control the written word. 


The Scope of Literacy 

The number of people who were literate or made use of literacy through scribal 
intermediaries varied according to time and place, but was undoubtedly more cir- 
cumscribed than in modern societies. Scribes were trained professionals, and their 
instruction began at an early age, as a literary composition on the subject in Sumer- 
ian makes clear (Kramer 1961:35-45). It is sometimes claimed that the difficulty 
of the cuneiform writing system itself held back the development of literacy, and 
societies in which the impact of writing spread beyond the sphere of a small group 
of palace and temple-based elites could not develop until the alphabet was invented 
(e.g., Cross 1989:77). The percentage of people who can read, however, seems 
much more a consequence of societal demand than the technology of writing. The 
high literacy rates of modern societies like China and Japan undermine the propo- 
sition that logo-syllabic writing systems cannot be learned without years of spe- 
cialized training, and there is, if anything, less evidence for writing in the parts of 
the Near East that had the alphabet in the second millennium than in Mesopotamia, 
where cuneiform prevailed. 

The Law Code of Hammurabi contains some interesting testimony on literacy. 
In the epilogue, it states: "Let any wronged man who has a lawsuit come before the 
statute of me . . . and let him have my inscribed stela read aloud to him, thus may 
he hear my precious pronouncements" (Roth 1995:134). He is not expected to read 
it himself. In the Code there is also a law that stipulates a marriage without a formal 
contract is no marriage (Roth 1995:105). It should be noted, however, that actual 
marriage contract tablets are not nearly as common in the archaeological record as 
one would expect if the latter statute is construed as meaning a written contract. 7 
Assurbanipal's claim to have actually learned Sumerian and Akkadian, albeit in a 
different context, suggests that it was unusual enough for a king to be literate to 
make it worth boasting about. 

Within the cuneiform sphere, there is tremendous variation over time and space 
in the amount of writing and the purposes for which it was employed. In some 
instances, tablets are associated almost exclusively with large institutions. This is 
true, for example, in Early Dynastic Mesopotamia, when temple and palace both 
employed scribes to manage their economies as well as create dedicatory and pro- 
pagandistic inscriptions. At other times, most dramatically in the Old Babylonian 
and Neo-Babylonian periods in southern Mesopotamia, the penetration of literacy 
into the private realm is much more extensive and deep. There are letters from 
merchant to merchant, wives to husbands, and servants to masters (Oppenheim 
1967:73-110, 183-195). Contracts, inheritance documents, transactions in tiny 
plots of land, etc. demonstrate that practically everyone was making use of the 
written word, at least indirectly. 

It must be emphasized that there is no linear trend in the spread of literacy. There 
are eras, such as the early Kassite period in southern Mesopotamia, when almost 
nothing is being written. This is because the sedentary population nearly vanishes, 
and along with it most of the need for writing, which had its original raison d'etre 


in social complexity and the impersonal nature of large urban environments. In the 
face-to-face, tribally organized, world of the Kassites there was no more need for 
writing than there was in Dark Age Europe. At the end of the Bronze Age, writing 
disappeared from the Anatolian Plateau, which thereafter remained outside 
the sphere of "cuneiform culture," of which it had so conspicuously been a part 
during the Hittite Empire. 8 There are counter-examples of rejuvenation and spread 
of what might have been assumed to be moribund writing systems: examples of 
this may be seen in the reappearance of masses of tablets from southern 
Mesopotamia in the Neo-Babylonian period after centuries of relative scarcity, and 
the spread of Assyrian-inspired cuneiform in hitherto illiterate eastern Anatolia in 
the Iron Age. 

Chance plays no small role in what archaeologists have recovered. Until the 
1970s no writing was known from Early Bronze Age Syria. This situation was sud- 
denly reversed with the discovery of the Ebla archive, as substantial a group of texts 
as any from Mesopotamia itself in that era. Similar surprises may await us in other 
areas. The dark age Kingdom of Mitanni, a one-time rival of the Hittites and Egyp- 
tians for supremacy in Syria, is known to have made use of writing, but its capital 
is not securely identified, to say nothing of any royal archives, which could con- 
ceivably be as rich as those found at Bogazkoy. There are hundreds of display 
inscriptions from Urartu, but only about two dozen tablets - just enough evidence 
to demonstrate that writing was being used for mundane administrative purposes 
and to offer the potential for opening a completely new window on this mysterious 
kingdom (Zimansky 1985:80-83). This unevenness of coverage over space, time, 
and societies has a profound impact on the concerns of archaeologists who conduct 
their research in the broad framework of civilizations that are generally character- 
ized as "historical." 

Near Eastern Archaeology as "Historical Archaeology" 

The way in which the documentary evidence whose character and availability have 
been discussed above is integrated with the archaeological record depends to a great 
extent on the scholarly objectives and philosophical outlook of the individual 
scholar. Both history and archaeology embrace a variety of perspectives on the 
methods and ultimate objectives of the study of the human past. In the broadest 
approach, there is no fundamental difference in the types of evidence. Late in his 
career, V. Gordon Childe summed up his position in the following terms: "Archae- 
ology is a source of history, not just a humble auxiliary discipline. Archaeological 
data are historical documents in their own right, not mere illustrations to written 
texts. Just as much as any other historian an archaeologist studies and tries to recon- 
stitute the process that created the human world in which we live - and us our- 
selves in so far as we are each creatures of our age and social environment" (Childe 

Alternatively, those who construe "history" in a narrower sense as the study of 
documentary evidence alone, view the scope and specificity of information provided 


by the written word as potentially so much greater than anything the material record 
can supply that archaeology is seen playing a supplemental role, filling in lacunae 
where documents are lacking or correcting biases of epigraphic sources at best. To 
the extent that written records are deficient the importance of archaeology 
increases, but the problems are essentially defined by what has been committed to 
writing. To cite but one authority: "only written documents can give us an assured 
knowledge of our past that is precise, detailed, and analytical. Prehistorians and 
archeologists as such can only see a hazy and uncertain outline of the past. This is 
why history begins at Sumer, as is emphasized by the title of a popular book. In other 
words, history begins in Lower Mesopotamia in the first part of the third millen- 
nium" (Bottero 1992:28 [emphasis original]). 

Archaeologists who do not share Childe's view that history is the primary objec- 
tive of their discipline have yet another orientation. In theoretical literature devel- 
oped primarily by students of the prehistoric cultures, archaeology is often seen as 
being a mainstream social science dedicated to explaining human behavior in 
broadly valid and abstract terms. The very specificity of the written record, and the 
undeniable fact that it illuminates only selected and specialized components of any 
given society, relegate it to the margins in the eyes of those who share this orien- 
tation. Students of the texts have themselves long recognized that what gets written 
down is often the atypical rather than the typical; normative practices are not usually 
recorded (Civil 1980:228). In addition to this, the focus of texts is generally on very 
limited parts of society. For example, the question of how cities are formed and 
configured is one upon which written documents can indeed have a bearing, but 
tablets rarely penetrate to the countryside and do not embrace broad enough sweeps 
of time to give a sufficiently coherent picture of how the whole economy functions. 
Thus, the offerings of the tablets can be seen almost as a smokescreen. 

This is directly relevant to the appreciation of ancient ideologies, for whose power 
there is so much concern in the social sciences today. The specific and deliberate 
communications committed to writing by individuals have material analogues in 
art, which has an equally vivid capacity for transmitting narrative detail, idiosyn- 
crasy, bombast, and propaganda. The most elaborate of both forms of these 
"graphic" creations, however, tend to reflect the beliefs and postures of very select 
individuals. The masses of figurines that archaeologists uncover in greater 
Mesopotamia, on the other hand, rarely illustrate anything we know of from written 
myths, legends, and rituals, and certainly do not convey very specific information 
about popular ideologies, but they do mark out the parameters of shared belief 

In short, there are differences in both the methods and aims of using texts in 
archaeological research in the Middle East, as there are in the study of textually 
documented cultures elsewhere. These are dependent upon the questions being 
asked. Few scholars, however, would deny the utility of combining all forms of evi- 
dence at some level. Let us consider several examples of the mutual reinforcement 
of archaeological and documentary evidence, beginning with very general problems 
and concluding with reference to some that are much more focused. It should be 
emphasized that virtually all research in the Bronze and Iron Age Near East is 


conducted within an historical framework, and cases treated here only hint at the 
range of possibilities. 

The investigation of ancient urbanism in southern Mesopotamia has long 
engaged the energies of scores of anthropologically trained archaeologists. In the 
1960s and 1970s, pioneering survey work of Robert McC. Adams on shifting pat- 
terns of settlement in the Tigris-Euphrates alluvium documented the emergence of 
the first cities and plotted their changing fortunes in subsequent millennia. This has 
been supplemented by other scholars in southern Mesopotamia and surveys are 
now routine in all parts of the Middle East. The basic field strategy consists of vis- 
iting sites and analyzing pottery scattered on their surfaces, which is the primary 
material evidence available without recourse to excavation. Except for the rare 
instances where inscribed objects like stamped bricks are recovered, there is little 
direct recourse to written evidence, granting that pottery sequences excavated from 
contexts dated by cuneiform tablets elsewhere lend chronological precision to the 
historical part of the sequence. 

The Mashkan-shapir project, conducted between 1986 and 1990 in southern 
Iraq, was designed to carry this investigation into Mesopotamian urbanism further 
by focusing on a question of the spatial organization at a single site (Stone and 
Zimansky 1995). Were institutions such as palace and temple centrally located with 
residences of elites in close proximity, as they were in some ancient societies, or was 
power more decentralized, with rich and poor intermingled throughout the urban 
environment? There were some obvious criteria for selecting a site at which to treat 
this problem efficiently - it had to be well preserved with visible surface remains, 
belong to a single period, and be of sufficient size to be regarded as a city. But the 
project directors also wanted a site dating to the Old Babylonian period, because 
that is when tablets were most widely used by different segments of society and 
offer the best prospect of identifying spatial variations in behavior. In the course of 
the initial surface survey, dedicatory inscriptions identifying the site as ancient 
Mashkan-shapir were discovered near a city gate. The existence but not the loca- 
tion of this city had been known from existing texts such as the Code of Ham- 
murabi. Finding the ancient name of the site was neither expected nor required 
information for the original aims of the project, but did greatly enhance under- 
standing of the context in which the site came into being and was destroyed, by 
linking it to the political history of the age. Inscribed evidence found in excavation 
helped to identify what activities were practiced in certain areas. For example, 
numerous door sealings from a building showed it to have been administered by 
two brothers. Although the project was cut short by the Gulf War in 1990 after two 
very short exploratory seasons and one campaign of four months, it did generate a 
relatively detailed picture of an entire urban setting in which textual evidence played 
a role in recognizing specialized areas, albeit one of less significance than the purely 
archaeological identification of such features as streets, temple platforms, harbors, 
residential structures, manufacturing areas, and graves. 

A much better known site, Kultepe (ancient Kanesh), already noted above, pro- 
vides an example in which textual and archaeological information are much more 
in balance, and together provide the most detailed information of an ancient trading 


network available to modern scholarship. 9 In this case, the tablets inspired the 
archaeology. They first appeared on the antiquities market in the late 1 9th century 
C.E. and hope of discovering more eventually brought archaeologists to the site, 
where they were not disappointed. A Turkish team under the direction of Tahsin 
Ozgiic has worked at Kultepe annually since 1948, and tens of thousands of tablets 
have now been recovered. The site consists of a main mound - a high tell of almost 
circular plan upon which palatial buildings of the early second millennium B.C.E. 
have been excavated - and a residential area that arcs around it known as the karum, 
in which merchants from Assyria resided. Almost all of the tablets come from private 
houses in the karum and are concerned with a long-distance trade in metals and 
textiles. They are the earliest documents from Anatolian soil and have been 
exploited for evidence on such subjects as the early migrations of Indo-Europeans, 
the emergence of the Hittites, and the character of the Old Assyrian city-state. In 
relating texts to archaeology, however, they are most interesting on the subject of 

In theory, trade is relatively amenable to archaeological investigation, and 
objects thought to have moved from one place to another are frequently noted in 
excavation reports. The mechanisms by which goods are exchanged, are, of course, 
much less obvious, and there is much controversy in anthropological literature 
about such matters as whether modern concepts like the law of supply and demand, 
abstract value, etc. should be applied to ancient societies, or what archaeological 
traces these would leave if one accepts their existence. Thanks to the tablets, we 
are in an almost unique position of knowing what goods were being traded, who 
did the trading, and what institutions were associated with it at Kultepe. We also 
have the physical remains of the trading colony to look at for correlations. It is a 
sobering lesson for archaeologists. We see nothing of the tin and textiles that the 
texts tell us were being brought to Anatolia, nor any of the "money" (gold and 
silver) sent in return to Assyria. The Assyrian merchants themselves, who 
were hundreds of miles from home and living in a foreign culture, apparently 
adopted the living styles of Anatolia and left very little indication of their presence, 
except for the cuneiform tablets and the seals and sealings associated with them. 
Yet when the various sources of evidence, textual and archaeological, are taken 
together, they provide us with a remarkably full picture of how this trading network 

I will limit myself to referring to two additional case studies of the coordination 
of textual and archaeological evidence, both from Nippur. In the 1950s and 1960s, 
a University of Chicago expedition there uncovered substantial numbers of tablets 
dating to the late third and early second millennia B.C.E. from residential areas 
(TA and TB) and from a temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna. In the case of 
the latter, Richard Zettler was able to piece together the temple archive, only 10% 
of which was found in situ and the rest in secondary contexts associated with later 
rebuildings of the temple. He was able to construct a genealogy of temple admin- 
istrators five generations deep and demonstrate that the temple operated more or 
less as a family operation, with junior members looking after administrative tasks 
like sealing doors on no other authority than kinship (Zettler 1987). Elizabeth 


Stone, working with documents in more direct contexts from residential areas, was 
able to correlate real estate transactions with house plans, and trace the history of 
a family and its fortunes over seven generations (Stone 1987). These two studies 
present information in the realm of social history that is very far removed from the 
kind of "kings and battles" theme associated with more public documents. We 
operate here at the same level as historical archaeology of much more recent 
periods, with the benefit of documents that are actually found in direct association 
with artifactual remains. 


The study of the ancient Near East offers unique opportunities for the coordina- 
tion of documentary and archaeological evidence largely because so much of the 
former is transmitted to us in the form of the latter. There is a great wealth of textual 
information of different kinds, particularly in what has come to us through 
cuneiform, which was widely used by numerous civilizations, committed to rela- 
tively imperishable materials, and is quite well understood as a writing system by 
modern scholars. We can hear the voices of the royal propagandists and bureau- 
crats, and contemplate - if not understand - ancient ideologies through mytholog- 
ical and literary texts. Chronologies and social identities are more perceptible here 
than they are for most other ancient civilizations. 

There are, of course, many caveats and pitfalls in the application of these sources 
to historical and cultural understanding. The full potential of integrating textual 
and archaeological data has seldom been realized or even recognized. The over- 
whelming majority of cuneiform inscriptions were unearthed with little attention 
to their archaeological context, either before controlled methods of digging were 
understood or in clandestine excavations directed solely to acquiring marketable 
portable artifacts. The scholars working with the enormous body of material thus 
put at their disposal had little incentive for insisting on precise contextual infor- 
mation, nor providing it to their colleagues operating in the field. 

Differences in the training, capacities, and objectives between the fields of Assyri- 
ology and Near Eastern archaeology have also retarded communication. Interpret- 
ing the texts is not always as straightforward as non-specialists might assume. 
Scribes, presuming knowledge that we simply do not have, leave out much infor- 
mation that we would dearly love to have. This is particularly true in letters, which 
are rarely dated and emerge from contexts that were well understood by the cor- 
respondents, but utterly opaque to us. It is often the exceptional things that get 
written down, not the routine, and we always run the risk of generalizing from very 
particular cases with texts. On the other hand, archaeology's strength comes from 
its concern with the most basic and recurrent elements of human existence. Granted 
that its data sets are invariably incomplete and often unrepresentative, they still 
embrace larger segments of society and broader chronological ranges than texts. 
The primary challenge here is to make reliable and convincing inferences on the 
basis of large shadows rather than individual points of light. 


Yet there is no inherent conflict between these disciplines. Both are mechanisms 
for recovering information about the past - tools, as it were, for answering ques- 
tions that the modern world deems important. It is in the questions that the most 
profound transformations take place, as our cumulative knowledge increases and 
priorities are altered by shifting perspectives. In most cases, these shifts are toward 
issues that demand input from archaeology and testimony on peoples, social forces 
and developments that are not directly addressed by the written word alone. There 
are numerous approaches to the past, and both historians who work primarily with 
documents and archaeologists come in different stripes. They have, in the Middle 
East, more sources for their various quests than those concerned with any other 
part of the ancient world, and more to gain by recognizing the potential of inte- 
grating them. 


The term "text" has become so charged in contemporary academic discourse that its use 
without qualification is no longer possible. In this chapter, I employ the term to refer 
specifically to documents written in a formal script that transmits information on the 
basis of human speech - physical manifestations of the specific words of their creators. 
This restricted definition is adopted not to denigrate the approach of those who see the 
entire archaeological record as a text to be read and interpreted through culturally con- 
ditioned interchange between creators and interpreters. Rather, it is offered to frame and 
limit the discussion to the arena in which Near Eastern archaeology has one of its more 
important claims to distinction - the survival of documentary evidence over a longer time 
range than anywhere else. 

For a succinct overview of the languages written in cuneiform, see Walker (1987, espe- 
cially pp. 40-47). 

Biblical archaeology constitutes a special case of correlation between material artifact, 
text, and ideology, which has generated an enormous literature that limitations of space 
prevent us from treating in detail. For a sampling of some of the recent methods, con- 
cerns and controversies of this field, see Bartlett (1997), Dever (2001), Finkelstein and 
Silberman (2001), King and Stager (2001), and Finkelstein (this volume). 
A concise overview of the types of cuneiform documents available for each period in 
Mesopotamian history is presented by Van de Mieroop (1999:9-38). 
The few traces of information that have been used to argue that the underlying language 
was Sumerian, e.g., the arrow, read TI, as a rebus for the word meaning "life" (Bottero 
1992:79-82), have been challenged in detail by Englund, who argues that Sumerian did 
not enter the country until after the archaic Uruk tablets had been written (Englund 

For the non-specialist in cuneiform, an excellent overview on how cuneiform was used 
to write Elamite, Hurrian, Urartian, and Hattic, as well as the state of our understand- 
ing of these languages, is to be found in Gragg (1995). 

Van de Mieroop (1997:10-12) accepts that these were verbal agreements and argues that 
the only reason "marriage contracts" were put in writing at all was that a transfer of prop- 
erty with monetary value was involved. He cautions that the purposes for which writing 
was undertaken have to be considered when evaluating cuneiform documents as histor- 


ical sources and these were much more limited than for modern documentation. Using 
modern rubrics such as "wills" can be quite misleading. 

Gemot Wilhelm has developed the concept of "Keihchrift-Kuhur" to reinforce the point 
that a great deal of cultural baggage went along with the writing system that was devel- 
oped in Mesopotamia when it was borrowed by other societies. This included literary 
works and religious concepts. The area of this commonality shrank dramatically at the 
end of the Bronze Age (Wilhelm 1986:95-7). 

A succinct overview of Kanesh and the Old Assyrian trade may be found in Veenhof 
(1995), which also includes a brief bibliography of accessible sources on the subject. 


Aharoni, Yohanan, 1981 Arad Inscriptions. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society. 

Bartlett, John, 1997 Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation. London and New York: 

Beaulieu, Paul-Alain, 1989 The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon 556-539 B.C. New 

Haven and London: Yale University Press. 
Biggs, Robert, 1967 Semitic Names in the Fara Period. Orientalia 36:55-66. 
Bottero, Jean, 1992 Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Zainab Bahrani and 

Marc Van de Mieroop, trans. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 
Bryce, Trevor, 1998 The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Chadwick, John, 1976 The Mycenaean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
Childe, V. Gordon, 1956 A Short Introduction to Archaeology. London: Frederick Muller. 
Civil, Miguel, 1980 Les limites de rinformation textuelle. In L'Archeologie de l'lraq du 

debut de l'epoque neolithique a 333 avant notre ere. Marie-Therese Barrelet, ed. pp. 

225-232. Paris: CRNS. 
Cole, Steven W, 1996 Nippur IV. The Early Neo-Babylonian Governor's Archive from 

Nippur. Oriental Institute Publications 114. Chicago: Oriental Institute Press. 
Cross, Frank M., 1989 The Invention and Development of the Alphabet. In The Origins of 

Writing. Wayne M. Senner, ed. pp. 77-90. Lincoln: University of Nebraska. 
Damerow, Peter, and Robert Englund, 1989 The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya. 

American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 39. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press. 
Dever, William J., 2001 What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? 

Grand Rapids, Ml/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans. 
Englund, Robert, 1998 Texts from the Late Uruk Period. In Mesopotamien: Spaturuk-Zeit 

und Friihdynastische Zeit. Josef Bauer, Robert K. Englund, and Manfred Rrebernik, 

eds. Freiburg and Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 
Fales, F. M., and J. N. Postgate, 1992 Imperial Administrative Records, Part I. State Archives 

of Assyria, vol. 7. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. 
Finkelstein, Israel, and Neil A. Silberman, 2001 The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New 

Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press. 
Gelb, I. J., 1963 A Study of Writing. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago. 
Gragg, Gene B., 1995 The Less-Understood Languages of Ancient Western Asia. In Civi- 
lizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4. Jack M. Sasson, ed. pp. 2161-2179. New York: 



Hawkins, [John] David, 1986 Writing in Anatolia: Imported and Indigenous Systems. World 

Archaeology 17:363-375. 
Healey, John R, 1990 The Early Alphabet. Reading the Past. London and Berkeley, CA: 

British Museum/University of California Press. 
Jacobsen, Thorkild, 1939 The Sumerian King List. Oriental Institute of the University of 

Chicago Assyriological Studies No. 11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
King, Philip, and Lawrence Stager, 2001 Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville and London: 

Westminster John Knox Press. 
Kramer, Samuel, 1961 History Begins at Sumer. 2nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. 
Kraus, F. R., 1968 Briefe aus dem Archive des Samas-Hazir in Paris und Oxford. Altbaby- 

lonische Briefe in Umschrift und Ubersetzung, Heft. 4. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 
Kucklick, Bruce, 1996 Puritans in Babylon: The Ancient Near East and American Intellec- 
tual Life 1880-1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 
Liverani, Mario, 1999 History and Archaeology in the Ancient Near East: 150 Years of a 

Difficult Relationship. In Fluchtpunkt Uruk: Archaologische Einheit aus methodischer 

Vielfalt. Schriften fur Hans Jorg Nissen. Hartmut Kuhne, Reinhard Bernbeck, and Karin 

Bartl, eds. pp. 1-11. Rahden/Westf.: Marie Leidorf. 
Lloyd, Seton, 1980 Foundations in the Dust: The Story of Mesopotamian Exploration. 

Revised edition. New York: Thames & Hudson. 
Moorey, P. R. S., 1991 A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press. 
Nissen, Hans, Peter Damerow, and Robert Englund, 1993 Archaic Bookkeeping. Paul 

Larsen, trans. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 
Oppenheim, A. Leo, 1967 Letters from Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
Oppenheim, A. Leo, 1977 Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Revised 

edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
Parpola, Simo, 1983 Assyrian Library Records. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 42/1:1-29. 
Pedersen, Olof, 1998 Archives and Libraries in the Ancient Near East 1500-300 B.C. 

Bethesda, MD: CDL Press. 
Pritchard, James B., ed., 1969 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 

3rd edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 
Roth, Martha T, 1995 Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Atlanta: Schol- 
ars Press. 
Schmandt-Besserat, Denise, 1992 Before Writing. 2 vols. Austin: University of Texas Press. 
Stone, Elizabeth, 1987 Nippur Neighborhoods. Chicago: Oriental Institute Press. 
Stone, Elizabeth, and Paul Zimansky, 1995 The Tapestry of Power in a Mesopotamian City. 

Scientific American 272/4:92-97. 
Torczyner, Harry, et al., 1938 Lachish I (Tell ed Duweir): The Lachish Letters. London, 

New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press. 
Van de Mieroop, Marc, 1997 Why Did They Write on Clay? Klio 79:7-18. 
Van de Mieroop, Marc, 1999 Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History. London and New 

York: Routledge. 
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Ancient Near East, vol. 2. Jack Sasson, ed. pp. 859-871. New York: Charles Scribner's 

Walker, C. B. F., 1987 Cuneiform. Reading the Past. London and Berkeley, CA: British 

Museum/University of California Press. 
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altorientalischer Staat im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. Volkert Haas, ed. pp. 95-113. Konstanz: 



Zettler, Richard L., 1987 Administration of the Temple of Inanna at Nippur under the Third 
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Oriental Institute Press. 


Representations, Reality, 
and Ideology 

Jennifer C. Ross 

To residents of ancient Near Eastern cities and towns, the visual imagery they reg- 
ularly encountered was not "art" in the aesthetic sense of the word. Philosophers 
of art maintain, in fact, that the aesthetic concept is a relatively recent one, and that 
most imagery produced in the ancient world belonged to the category denoted by 
Latin ars and Greek techne, or "skill" (Mortensen 1997). At the same time, the tra- 
ditional art historical terminology of art, artist, and patron can provide a useful 
framework for discussion, if applied cautiously. 1 In the ancient Near East, repre- 
sentations on wall surfaces and freestanding stelae, on seals and vessels, functioned 
within a larger cultural system to convey ideas and information relating to the order 
and organization of society. Each patron, artist, and viewer, even each act of cre- 
ation or observation, constituted part of a process by which meaning was con- 
structed, interpreted, challenged, and incorporated into the prevailing social and 
political systems. 

Images were produced in a variety of forms and media during the period covered 
by this chapter, the third through the first millennia B.C.E. Here, however, I will 
narrow the focus to exclude "decorative" designs, whether geometric, natural, or 
figural. 2 I will also concentrate on Mesopotamian imagery, that of the Tigris and 
Euphrates River valleys of modern Iraq, but my comments should be applicable to 
other areas of the ancient Near East as well. Most of my discussion in this chapter 
will refer to public art, primarily the monumental sculptural works of Mesopotamia, 
commissioned by the elite to signify their devotion to the gods, dedication to their 
land and people, and achievements. In focusing on these, I will be giving rather 
scant attention to works, such as votive statuary and representational art situated 
in houses, commissioned or created for private consumption and devotion. I will 
offer a methodology for assessing the public imagery in particular, with special 
attention to how representations were perceived and interpreted by a range of 
potential witnesses. 


Art historians and archaeologists are equipped with a variety of methods and 
theoretical approaches with which to evaluate artistic works; these have been applied 
to the study of some of the best-known ancient Near Eastern images. A first step 
in the assessment of a work is descriptive, examining the iconographic content of 
the image, identifying the figures and recording such features as size, shape, and 
material. This stage encapsulates and translates the image into a different medium 
of representation; it may highlight particular features of the work felt by the analyst 
to be most significant, while passing over others. A second stage comprises stylis- 
tic appraisal. Stylistic analysis may be synchronic, locating an individual work within 
its time period and particular place of origin. While individual artists' hands have 
seldom been recognized in the art of the ancient Near East (nor were such works 
ascribed to particular artists in the textual records), the products of some regional 
workshops have been identified (Collon 1981, 1985; Winter 1981a). Another level 
of stylistic analysis is diachronic, examining the development of motifs, techniques, 
and artistic styles over longer spans of time. 

The analytical methods offered here take for granted the need for descriptive 
and stylistic analyses, but are more interpretive, attempting to place individual 
works, and artistic production as a whole, into an active context as the products, 
expressions, and generators of ideologies. The term "ideology" is used here in the 
Marxist sense, as a collection of strategies and shared meanings deployed by an elite 
class to make present realities, including social and economic stratification and 
political inequalities, appear natural and beneficial to society as a whole (Liverani 
1979:298; Pollock 1999:173). For artistic representations, this implies an adapta- 
tion, refocusing, selective representation, or even a misrepresentation of events and 
conditions. An ideological approach to art requires that there be a sponsor and 
creator of the work in question, a receptive and understanding audience toward 
whom the imagery was directed, and a distinct message being communicated and 
received, though not necessarily consciously (Wolff 1993:115). Ideology manifests 
itself in a number of ways, including but not limited to visual modes of expression 
(art and architecture), ritual performance, and verbal devices such as stories. 
Through strategic use of one or more of these methods, societal leaders declare and 
reaffirm their own roles and status (De Marrais et al. 1996:16). At the same time, 
ideological expression may leave room for reinterpretation, and its meanings can 
be contested, revised, or even negated by the population it tries to manipulate. Soci- 
eties may maintain multiple, nested, or conflicting ideologies, though one will 
usually dominate others; such multivocality and diversity can challenge and trans- 
form social structures (Liverani 1979:300). 

Because it requires an audience that has been socialized in the dominant forms 
of cultural representations, even if not actively aware of this, much ideological 
expression is set in a public forum; in the case of art, this often takes place on a 
monumental scale and in accessible locations. As described below, artistic repre- 
sentations in the Near East began to proliferate in the kin-based societies of the 
Neolithic. The growth of urbanism in Mesopotamia in the Late Uruk period (the 
late fourth millennium) coincided with the appearance of the earliest artistic rep- 
resentations of the roles and responsibilities of leaders. It is not a coincidence, from 


the standpoint of the ideological analysis offered here, that production of monu- 
mental art and architecture expanded rapidly during this period. 

This first appearance of artistic expressions of ideology of leadership, and its 
further development during the third millennium, also corresponded with the ear- 
liest examples of narrative art in Mesopotamia. Pictorial narrative, imagery that tells 
or alludes to a particular story, has been an object of art historical research for 
several decades. Scholars have offered examples of and explanations for the narra- 
tive art produced in ancient Egypt (Kantor 1957; Davis 1992, 1993), Greece (most 
recently Stansbury-O'Donnell 1999), and Italy (von Blanckenhagen 1957). The 
richness of the pictorial repertoire that has survived from these cultures has encour- 
aged the development of narrative approaches to art. The pictorial narratives created 
in the ancient Near East, on the other hand, have been examined in less detail, with 
attention paid most often to particular pieces or periods (Giiterbock 1957; Perkins 
1957; Reade 1979b; Winter 1981b, 1985; Russell 1993). Here, I will offer the view- 
point that the ideological and narrative approaches to artistic representation can be 
more widely applied to all periods of production. Narrative art requires an intuitive 
contemporary "reader" to reconstruct the story it tells; that same reader, accord- 
ing to an ideological perspective on art, may regard and (unconsciously) interpret 
the imagery as culminating in the social and political circumstances of his or her 
own time, explaining and naturalizing the status quo and thus the dominant ideol- 
ogy of the time. The techniques and goals of narrative expression and ideological 
communication thus appeared nearly contemporaneously in the ancient Near East, 
and often worked together to reinforce the sense that societal norms were logical 
and natural. 

Origins of Near Eastern Art 

The earliest surviving art from the ancient Near East comes from the Epipaleolithic 
and Neolithic periods, over 10,000 years ago. Incised stones and carved bones from 
Epipaleolithic levels at 'Ain Mallaha ('Eynan) and the Carmel cave complex in 
northern Israel were perhaps important first steps toward visual expression (Noy 
1991; Belfer-Cohen 1991). In the permanent agricultural villages of the Neolithic, 
however, there is evidence for more intensive and widespread image production. 
Both the scattered Epipaleolithic evidence and the more extensive data from per- 
manent Neolithic settlements around the Fertile Crescent suggest that the begin- 
nings of artistic production intersected with other critical social and economic 
changes related to the development of permanent settlements and an agricultural 

The figurines, relief sculpture, and wall paintings produced at such Neolithic 
sites as Jericho (Kenyon 1960:54), Nevali Cori and Gobekli Tepe (Hauptmann 
1999), and, particularly, Catal Hoyiik (Mellaart 1967; Hodder ed. 1996), portrayed 
the interdependence and interconnectedness of the natural and cultural worlds 
(Yakar 1991:310;Voigt 2000). At a time when humans sought to extend and inten- 
sify their manipulation of nature, through intensification of hunting and gathering 


practices or by means of incipient agriculture, such images may have served to 
model behaviors, express and affect desired outcomes, or record important events 
of the natural and human life cycles. At £atal Hoyuk, the amount and variety of 
artistic work indicates that community members were continually interacting with, 
manipulating, and being influenced by imagery. The artistic content differed from 
building to building, but each resident of the town may have had daily opportuni- 
ties to see and interpret the representations. The regular renewal and transforma- 
tion of images (through repainting of walls) suggests that, despite changes in 
content, artistic expression was of enduring value and potential benefit to the res- 
idents. The emerging evidence of th